Lloyds’ Blank cheque
Sir Victor’s Blank cheque has finally bounced. Drawn on the Bank of Gordon, it looked like a dodgy piece of paper from the start, and now it has been sent back, marked “Refer to Drawer”.
Shares in Lloyds Banking Group rose in relief that someone, anyone, has finally agreed to take the rap for the disastrous takeover of HBoS, at the behest of the UK government, during last year’s financial panic.
Dazzled by the prospect of a market position in the UK which the competition authorities would never have allowed in normal times, Blank and his chief executive Eric Daniels failed to look their gift horse in the mouth, and discovered it was really a broken-down old nag.
The acquisition obscured the fact that the Black Horse itself was hardly in shape, and even without the handicap of HBoS, would almost certainly have been obliged to limp to the government for help. That is as much Daniels’ fault as Blank’s, and he will have to pay once a new chairman has been found.
This will not be easy. It would surely be too venal, even for this government, to impose finance minister Alistair Darling on the suffering shareholders, once he finds himself out of a job next year.
Lord Sandy Leitch, the Labour luvvie elevated to deputy chairman at the weekend, might fancy his chances, but his background is in insurance. The fashion for bank chairman who know nothing about banking has, mercifully, been blown away by the crisis.
More sensibly, Lord Mervyn Davies seems to have little to do since he quit Standard Chartered Bank <STAN.L> for the administration, while Doug Flint from HSBC would be a fine, and popular choice as chief executive if he could face the challenge. He’s a Scot, which would also play well in the Brown bunker.
However, John Kingman, the civil servant in charge of UK Financial Investments, the government’s fig leaf covering its 43 percent stake in the bank, had signally failed to endorse Blank’s re-election at the forthcoming annual meeting. Perhaps he is showing signs of independence after all.
Philip Hampton, who was ousted as finance director from Lloyds five years ago for urging a cut in the dividend, would have been the ideal candidate. Unfortunately, he was tapped to chair RBS last January.
Win Bischoff, 67, who stepped down as chairman of Citigroup earlier this year, may consider another politically-contentious banking chairmanship unpalatable.
Whoever heads the new team has much to do. The combine is barely profitable, and more write-offs from the massive property-backed loan books, both domestic and commercial, are a racing certainty. It will be a long time before the Black Horse starts to show the paces that Blank expected when he galloped in without thinking last September.