Diamond hangs on to Barclays crown jewel

June 8, 2009

REUTERSYou have to hand it to Barclays. The reported sale of BGI, its fund management arm, to BlackRock for $13 billion is probably the best way that the bank could bolster its capital ratio.

It looks like it will end up with around $8 billion in cash and a fifth of the enlarged asset manager.
The gain on the sale would lift its equity tier 1 ratio to 6.8 percent from just over 6 percent, according to Nomura.

Combined with the strong earnings coming through from BarCap, its investment bank, this should be high enough for Barclays to survive both the further losses on legacy assets that it has so far resisted and recessionary write-downs.

The terms of the sale have not yet been disclosed, but they look like they will be much better for Barclays than April’s proposed sale of iShares, the most attractive part of BGI, to CVC, a private equity group.

An astute go-shop clause, which expires on June 18, has enabled Barclays to exploit rising markets to drive a harder bargain. The proposed iShares deal would have been 80 percent vendor-financed, on pretty appealing terms, by Barclays.

This time it looks like the purchasers are raising cash themselves. Larry Fink, the BlackRock boss, is reported to have sought backing for the deal from the same Middle Eastern wells of capital — Abu Dhabi and Qatar — which invested so successfully in Barclays last November, as well as the Kuwait Investment Authority.

By taking a 20 percent stake in an enlarged BlackRock, Barclays retains exposure to the stable asset management business that it had declared to be “core” before it realised it needed to raise some capital.

Even if Barclays’ voting rights are capped, it will have a say through its two expected board seats. One of those seats is likely to be filled by Bob Diamond, president of Barclays.

Diamond looks set to receive around $21 million from the deal (not all of which is profit because he paid for his existing stake and must also pay to exercise options he holds).

Barclays insists that — as with the iShares deal — Diamond has not been involved in the talks.

However, he is clearly the architect of the strategy to sell BGI, and the negotiations have been led by Rich Ricci, one of his closest colleagues. Some shareholders might find Diamond’s payout unpalatable. Others may be simply relieved that he has played a difficult hand with some skill.

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