David Prosser: Lloyds boss is the last man still standing

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Outlook Give Eric Daniels some credit, at least for tenacity. When the true scale of the horrors lurking in HBOS's commercial loan book first emerged, there was a widespread expectation that the Lloyds chief executive responsible for agreeing to take over the rival bank would have to go. Yet he has hung on doggedly, and shareholders yesterday were mainly supportive, despite being asked to participate in a massive cash call.

It's difficult to see why. Had Mr Daniels and Victor Blank – the Lloyds chairman who did walk – not bought HBOS, they would not have had to borrow a penny from the taxpayer. And the misjudgement was twofold. Lloyds never quite realised that the European Commission would have something to say about the deal, particularly once the group received state aid, even if our own competition watchdog was told to approve it.

In defence of Mr Daniels, one might argue that his determination to get Lloyds off the hook of the Government's asset protection scheme has enabled the bank to avoid the more severe strictures handed down against RBS by the Commission. Still, Lloyds is having to cough up a break fee of £2.5bn to escape the scheme, so the strategy has hardly been without cost.

The better news is that Lloyds seems to be ahead of schedule in realising the savings and synergies that the HBOS deal offers. And it will still have a 25 per cent share of the current account market, even after its disposals. On the downside, there are other pitfalls to deal with before Lloyds can begin enjoying those advantages – not least having to declare a loss for 2009. And while the trend on bad impairments is improving, 2010 still looks rough. Mr Daniels isn't out of the woods yet.