Barclays, a former basket case of British banking, is beginning to look inspiringly mediocre. The bank has failed Bank of England stress tests less resoundingly than Royal Bank of Scotland. Investors believe its assets are worth only 10 per cent less than their book value, judging from the share price. Although Barclays’s legal team have a mountain of work in hand, little relates to recent alleged misdeeds.
Those incurable optimists on Threadneedle Street envisaged a severe world recession, a financial shock and, for all we know, plagues of locusts. Barclays undershot its main 7.8 per cent target for equity as a proportion of risk-weighted assets in the war games, even after projected dividend and coupon cuts. However, the bank would have weathered the apocalypse by half a percentage point after hybrid bonds converted to equity.
Despite the skinniness of that margin, the Old Lady did not require chief executive Jes Staley to rework his numbers, a process that might have raised the possibility of a cash call. He apparently got credit for an anticipated one percentage point increase in headline capital, currently 11.6 per cent, reflecting the sale of shares in Barclays Africa and a noncore asset rundown. Just as well. He got no credit at all for any ability to lift capital in a crisis through managerial ability.
These days, central bankers are immune to the charisma of Barclays bosses. The City, which is more impressionable, has warmed to Mr Staley. His vision of a bank and a credit card business serving corporate and retail clients on either side of the Atlantic has coherence. The shares have been lifted by enthusiasm for Wall Street banking following Donald Trump’s presidential win, pricing them at a substantial premium to former glamour stock Lloyds.
Most of the misconduct issues Barclays now enumerates at the back of results statement are of mature enough vintages to merit the title “legacy” too often applied to anything bank bosses feel embarrassed about. Analysts expect steady step-ups in profits over the next few years. With an investment bank in the mix, the real numbers will be volatile. But the mood around Barclays is better than it has been for years. Give the old dog a stroke. There’s life in him yet.