Don't bank on Barclays

After a forgettable fourth quarter, the bank expects to miss its profit goal.

By Benzinga Feb 11, 2012 1:01AM

Image: Bank Vault (© Radius Images/Jupiterimages)By Brett Callwood, Benzinga Staff Writer

British bank Barclays (BCS) looks like it will miss its profit goal after suffering its worst quarter in three years.

The eurozone debt crisis led to a slump in bond trading, which in turn dragged down Barclays' annual profit. This led CEO Bob Diamond to push back the return-on-equity target of 13% that he set less than a year ago.

Many analysts had thought that target was too ambitious. "The idea of 13% is pie in the sky, and even getting to 10% is a long way away," said Berenberg Bank analyst Alex Potter, according to Reuters,

As a result of the 2011 profit slump, Barclays said it would be capping bonuses, although Diamond declined to say whether he himself would receive one, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Barclays said its net profit for 2011 fell 8% to 3 billion pounds ($4.75 billion). Meanwhile, the adjusted return on equity fell to 6.6% from 6.8% the previous year -- well below Barclays' target of 13%.

The bank then announced that it would cap bonuses in an effort to calm the waters, as analysts and investors alike scrambled to damn the bank. The cash-and-share bonus pool would be cut by nearly a third to 1.5 billion pounds. Cash bonuses within the investment banking division were capped at 65,000 pounds.

Does it not seem strange to anyone else that a company, bank or otherwise, that suffered such a difficult 2011 will still feel it appropriate to have 1.5 billion pounds in a bonus pot? How many other companies can offer huge bonuses to employees when it is losing money? Ask the U.S. banks and auto companies how far that can get you.

Diamond said that he felt it was important to remain sensitive to the way the general public perceives banker pay. "We need to be responsive to the public mood," he added.

He's not kidding, although perhaps Barclays needs to be more sensitive and responsive, as that bonus pool is still a mighty big amount of money.

Barclays was hit hard last year, with pretax profit in Barclays Capital falling 32% to 2.97 billion pounds from 4.39 billion pounds in 2010. Again, this was caused by the eurozone crisis, with clients sitting on the sidelines.

Diamond managed to keep positive when talking about the coming year, saying that the bank's competitive position "has improved" over 2011. He added that Barclays has momentum heading into 2012.

Those who will not feel so positive about Barclays or its 1.5 billion pound bonus pot, are the 6,700 employees who lost their jobs last year. That bonus pool could have given six-figure salaries to all of those former employees.

In a Friday research report, Deutsche Bank said that Barclays is driven by better costs, beating European peers, although there is some disappointment in results-based budgeting and corporate. Credit Suisse said that although the return-on-equity target has been pushed back, the outlook is still OK. Citi agreed, adding that the performance in January of results-based budgeting and corporate banking was consistent with the good performance achieved in 2011.

J.P. Morgan was a little less positive, saying that although the weakness in capital-markets revenue was not surprising given fourth-quarter market conditions, the lower risk-weighted assets (a result of weak activity levels) provided some offset. Bank of England Merrill Lynch said that it thinks the 13% change in return on equity will be taken negatively.

More from Benzinga:
Feb 13, 2012 10:50AM
Funny. If Barclay's wasn't British, maybe the US would be swinging some cash in front of them. It seems that that's all the US does these days is bail out big businesses while watching the rest of the economy fail. 
Feb 13, 2012 9:53AM
I've heard Barclays was struggling in the last few months, people were talking about them being on the verge of going under in the fall.
Feb 13, 2012 10:56AM
These reuters writers are just hilarious. As if bonus pools or compensation add-ons were really the issue. Hello, when the world deleverages and proprietary trading gets nixed, there are no more profits. Banks exist for fractional reserve interest and to trade their own accounts, everything else is just a show.
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