UK News

Insights from the UK and beyond

from Breakingviews:

UK banks have much to fear from latest probe

By Chris Hughes

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The latest competition review of UK banking should aim to be the last. An antitrust probe in 2000 led to limited price controls after concluding that British lenders made excess profit. There were two more big investigations after the financial crisis. Yet concerns about market inefficiencies persist. That suggests the Competition and Markets Authority should do something radical this time.

The CMA says it is minded to conduct a comprehensive investigation of UK banking later this year. The industry is at least as oligopolistic as it was 14 years ago. Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland have 77 percent of personal accounts and 85 percent of small-business banking.

So-called challenger banks have emerged from disposals by Lloyds and RBS as mandated by the European Commission. But the market has become more concentrated, especially in mortgages, after Lloyds swallowed Halifax and Bank of Scotland and several former building societies collapsed. Customer dissatisfaction is high. Yet just 4 percent of SME customers and 3 percent of personal customers switch accounts annually. The banks say things are already changing for the better. Twas ever thus.

from Hugo Dixon:

The City has huge scope to expand

Finance has rightly been in the sin bin for the last six years. And the cleanup job isn’t finished. But Mark Carney, the new Bank of England governor, is correct to stress how a large and expanding City of London is good for Britain, Europe and the world – provided it is properly organised.

Carney’s comments, in a speech last week, will seem heretical to many – maybe even to his predecessor, Mervyn King, who showed a barely disguised disdain for financiers. Would it really be healthy, for example, for the balance sheets of British banks to reach nine times GDP, double the current ratio – as Carney projected they could by 2050?

from The Great Debate UK:

Do you want shares in RBS and Lloyds?

By Matt Scuffham, UK Banking Correspondent.

The government should hand most of its shares in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group to the public, an influential political think tank says, in what would be the country's biggest privatisation.

The proposal would enable 48 million taxpayers to apply for shares at no initial cost and with no risk attached, the think tank said. A 'floor price' would be set and taxpayers would make a profit on any rise in the shares above that level.

from Breakingviews:

RBS has tough fight to put value in wholesale arm

By Margaret Doyle

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.

Royal Bank of Scotland, the state-owned UK lender, is cutting its investment bank, again, and is merging it with its international payments unit. The new division aims to make more than the 12 percent groupwide cost of capital. It must do at least that to have any value. But it is a big ask given regulatory and political headwinds.

from Breakingviews:

UK banks need government to solve funding squeeze

By George Hay
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.The Bank of England is tooling itself up. The UK central bank announced on Dec. 6 a new facility to help domestic lenders if the euro zone crisis causes a fully-fledged freeze in short-term funding markets. But banks may still need more help.

The BoE already has two ways to combat liquidity squeezes. It allows banks to borrow against liquid collateral for three or six months through its Indexed Long-Term Repo (ILTR) auctions. And it allows desperate banks to swap illiquid collateral for gilts for up to a year via its Discount Window Facility (DWF) – in return for a fat fee and big haircuts.

from Breakingviews:

Bank capital debate obscures more urgent reform

By Peter Thal Larsen
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

LONDON -- Before the crisis, financial regulators were often accused of being in thrall to bankers. Today, they are in greater danger of being captured by academics. British boffins have recently got bogged down debating whether banks should hold significantly higher levels of equity. Even if the idea is right, it is not remotely realistic. Policymakers should concentrate on more modest but practical reforms.

from Funds Hub:

Utilities vs banks: The evidence

Alpesh Patel caused quite a stir on Britain's Radio 4 this morning. The CEO of boutique investment house Praefinium Partners argued that Bob Diamond was on "a suicide mission to bring down capitalism". No word yet from the Barclays CEO on that one.

Maybe that was just the line his PRs had promised to the BBC producers to get him on air, though, and there is more logic to Patel's more substantial point about value creation in the banking sector in relation to bonuses and pay.

Satisfied bank customer?

Unicorn

We’re wondering who is.

We see bailed-out banks returning to profit at the same time as headlines about others still refusing to lend. The personal finance pages are bristling with stories about mortgage famine . Big businesses may have been overcharged for banks’ services in raising new equity capital;  lending to smaller businesses is down, and the interest offered on savings is so derisory, would-be savers are being pushed into taking more risk to try to preserve their capital.

What are we missing? What is the magic ingredient that makes you as a customer happy with your bank? Or are we right in thinking “customer satisfaction” is a figment of executive imagination? Tell us your stories.

from The Great Debate UK:

Not much stress, not much test

-Laurence Copeland is professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Back in the 1950’s, when most women stayed at home while their menfolk went out to work, a favourite trick of life insurance salesmen was to walk into the prospect’s home at dinner time and ask the wife:

from The Great Debate UK:

Banks, borrowing, bonds and Britain’s budget

BRITAIN/

-Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School and a co-author of “Verdict on the Crash” published by the Institute of Economic Affairs. The opinions expressed are his own. Join Reuters for a live discussion with guests as UK Chancellor George Osborne makes  an emergency budget statement at 12:30 p.m. British time on Tuesday, June 22, 2010.-

George Osborne must be thankful to Don Fabio and his boys for ensuring that Wednesday’s tabloids will have other things to think about than the Budget, because it is going to be one of the toughest ever.

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