The Great Debate UK
– Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own. –
Supporting Ireland to the tune of a few billion quid must look like a no-brainer to the British Government. We should not make the same mistake as the Germans, who managed to get the worst of both worlds over Greece – forced by the scale of their bank exposure to support Greece, but providing the money with ill will, causing bitterness rather than gratitude – and now repeating the error in the Irish case.
Our wonderful British banks are more exposed than those of any euro zone member to the Irish debacle, with, at the front of the queue, the usual suspects: RBS and Lloyds-HBOS, the two big nationalised banks. So the answer to those who ask why we are contributing to the rescue package is that it is nothing more than the latest (and probably not the last) instalment of the cost of the bank bailout.
This is something to remember next time you hear one of the banking sector’s apologists crowing about how little the bailout is actually costing and how great a killing we taxpayers are ultimately going to make on our bank shares – and don’t forget to add in the cost borne by us all as bank customers, with the gap between borrowing and lending rates at their highest level in history.
(Refiles on October 19, 2010 to add disclaimer for author's personal investment. Neil Unmack owned Lloyds CoCos when he wrote this article.)
Ever since the financial crisis struck, regulators have argued for an overhaul of bank capital. Contingent capital, which can absorb losses while the bank remains in business, sounds like the solution. But until last week it had only been used by a few distressed lenders.
from UK News:
Deciding it was safe to come clean because banks are now on a more even keel and the worst of the credit crisis is behind us, the Bank of England has told the nation that at the height of the turmoil it secretly lent Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS a colossal £62 billion, which is more than the entire British defence budget.
Both banks faced the imminent closure of high street cash machines and the curtailment of normal banking operations across the country.
It's just not fair. Those beastly banks are snatching the bread from our mouths, chorus three of London's mid-cap broking houses. "Taxpayer supported banks" (do they by any chance mean Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland?) are strong-arming the clients of Panmure Gordon, Numis and Evolution into steering lucrative rights issue underwriting their way.
The trio are so upset at the sight of this lovely business disappearing that they have written to Paul Myners, the government's Minister for the City, to complain about "anti-competitive behaviour." It's "stifling competition in the capital markets." Anecdotal evidence from twitchy businesses in thrall to their banks suggest they are right.
Lloyds seems to be taking a leaf out of Vito Corleone's book: if you need someone to do something that they don't want to, you have to make them an offer they can't refuse. For the mafia boss in The Godfather, that meant decapitating a horse. For Lloyds, the UK bank whose logo is a black horse, it means threatening to cut off interest payments on your own debt.
Lloyds' plan is to convert subordinated debt into 7.5 billion pounds of contingent capital. These new-fangled securities pay out fixed coupons, but can be converted into shares in times of need. The exchange is part of Lloyds' efforts to avoid the government's asset protection scheme. Lloyds is likely to pull off this deal, but the jury is still out on whether this kind of capital will be widely used by other banks.
from The Great Debate:
So it can be done after all.
Britain is poised to take tough steps to break up the large banks it rescued, setting it in stark contrast to the United States, which seems set on a policy of shoring up the unfair advantages it grants its too-big-to-fail banks while regulating around the edges.
It is quite a change for Britain, which has a sorry history of self-serving self-regulation in financial services combined with limp and outgunned official control.
Talk about hitting the ground running. Even though he doesn't formally take charge until next month Win Bischoff, chairman-designate of Lloyds, is reported to be pressing for the bank to raise up to 15 billion pounds through a rights issue and to scale back its participation in the government's Asset Protection Scheme (APS).
His intentions are to be applauded. But regaining some independence will not come cheap for Lloyds shareholders, and substantial government support will still be needed.
Sir Win Bischoff appears to relish a challenge. His brief spell as chairman of Citigroup was spent resisting regulators who wanted to break up the bank. If the veteran banker takes over as chairman of Lloyds Banking Group, his first fight will be with competition authorities in Brussels. This is one battle where it would be better if Sir Win did not live up to his name.
Three months is a long time in the markets, and particularly for banks. Alongside the rally in bank shares, investors have also bid up bank bonds, especially so-called tier 1 bonds which rank just above the equity in the list of creditors.
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.