Barclays warns on costs and bad debt provisions

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BARCLAYS BANK, the high street clearer rocked by the departure of its chief executive Martin Taylor 10 days ago, saw its shares fall 21p to 1,289p yesterday after it warned of sharply higher costs and a rise in bad debt provisioning in the second half.

The bank also confirmed its previous statement - made on the day Mr Taylor's departure was announced - that pre-tax profits would be pounds 1.9bn for the calendar year rather than the pounds 2.25bn City analysts had been forecasting.

The bank did not clarify the reason for the shortfall. However, analysts said the figures released yesterday implied that Barclays Capital, which in August suffered huge losses in the Russian government bond market, was heading for a pounds 420m loss in the second half, although the precise breakdown will not be known until the final results are published in February.

"Barclays denied that they were issuing a profits warning. But that is what they are leading the market to believe with this statement," said David Townsend, banking analyst at Goldman Sachs. "They are increasingly hemming themselves in with this figure of pounds 1.9bn. If they were to make pounds 2.2bn after all, they might now be sued by any shareholder who saw the earlier statement, assumed they were making a profits warning and sold their shares."

Yesterday's statement came ahead of a round of City analysts' briefings by stopgap chief executive Sir Peter Middleton and Oliver Stocken, the finance director. The briefings are traditionally made ahead of the banks' closed periods during which they are banned from talking to analysts while they finalise results for publication.

Analysts said that, while the headline figure was not new, the figures underlined the seriousness of the strategic issues Barclays now has to address.

The bank has said that the Barclays Capital division, whose losses were a factor in the boardroom rift which prompted Mr Taylor's departure, is currently under review.

There has been speculation about the future of the division and about the future of Bob Diamond, its chief executive. "The strategy for Barclays Capital appears to have failed, and needs to be revisited urgently," one analyst said.

Analysts also expressed surprise at the news that costs for the year are expected to have risen by by around 5.5 per cent. This, they said, meant pounds 100m would be added to overheads this year.

Barclays said dealing profits had been "significantly impacted" by the losses on Russian government bonds. A large part of the pounds 250m charge announced on 1 September would now be treated as a "dealing loss".

The bank said that on top of the pounds 75m it said it lost in July and August in the corporate bond market, the bank had suffered "difficult market conditions" in September and October. It said losses were partially offset by "good performances" in interest-rate derivatives and foreign exchange, and market conditions had improved since then.

Barclays said that Barclays Capital was managing down its weighted risk assets to a level below the pounds 37.9bn in June 1998. Barclays Capital consumes around 35 per cent of regulatory capital - the funds the bank is required by the authorities to set aside to cover risks.

The losses at Barclays Capital have obscured better news emerging elsewhere in the bank's overall performance. Retail consumer lending continues to grow at the rate of 15 per cent a year.