Tuesday, February 12, 2013

WSJ's Simon Nixon and the unconvincing makeover at Barclays

In his Wall Street Journal Heard on the Street column, Simon Nixon concludes that Anthony Jenkins' makeover of Barclays is much ado about nothing.  He observes that if Barclays wants to make a radical change from its past it will address the lack of confidence in the bank's accounts.

Regular readers know that this is precisely what your humble blogger has been saying in numerous posts over the last several days.

I have gone one step further than Mr. Nixon by discussing how the only way for Barclays to restore confidence in its accounts is if it provides ultra transparency and discloses on an ongoing basis its current global asset, liability and off-balance sheet exposure details.

Barclays boss Antony Jenkins wants the world to believe that his strategic plan marks a radical break for the U.K. bank. 
But strip away the public-relations waffle about cultural revolution—much of it a familiar echo of his predecessor Robert Diamond—and what has actually changed? 
Not much. 
Out of 75 business units, Mr. Jenkins proposes to close just four, representing a mere 1.3% of 2012 revenue. A further 32 businesses representing 20% of 2012 revenue will be scaled back. But most of the bank has been left untouched. 
Barclays essentially remains what it was before: a large U.S. investment bank joined to a major U.K. retail bank with a smaller retail operation in Africa. 
The core of Mr. Jenkins' plan rests on his claim that he can cut costs and shrink the balance sheet while simultaneously boosting revenue. Investors should remember that this was Mr. Diamond's plan, too.....
True, some investors argue that with the stock trading at just 0.7 times book value—in line with still-loss-making Royal Bank of Scotland—Barclays shares are cheap. 
But an alternative explanation is that the market simply doesn't believe the value the bank attributes to its assets. Mr. Jenkins may talk of cultural change, but he has done nothing to address this lack of confidence in the bank's accounts. 
One day Barclays will make a radical break with the past. This wasn't it.

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