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Business Comment

Good news about RBS? Focus on the bumpy road ahead


Good news about RBS? It’s something of a shock. The sight of a Dodo ambling up Oxford Street would be less surprising.

And yet here’s the bailed out, beaten up bank with what amounts to a reverse profit warning a mere week before the full set of numbers are due to be released. 

It seems someone in the finance department tapped the chief exec on the shoulder and said: “Er, boss, these numbers. They’re actually quote good. No, don’t spill that coffee all over your shirt… Ouch…”

The way the shares responded you’d think George Osborne would be ready call his broker to see if he could offload a few. Well, perhaps not. 

We can’t yet say if RBS’s boss Ross McEwan is any good, but he’s been lucky here. The economic recovery has meant that fewer people, and particularly fewer businesses, are defaulting on loans the bank thought would go bad, and provisioned against).

Outside of that unexpected boost, expenses declined 8 per cent, revenues by 6 per cent. Which is creditable, and props to McEwan for that, but it\s hardly earth shattering.

It’s welcome that the bank’s dodgy loans are performing better (if you pay taxes you’ve got a stake in them doing so). But remember that the man charged with the oversight of struggling business loans, Derek Sach, head of the Global Restructuring Group, and his boss deputy chief executive Chris Sullivan were this week carpeted by the Treasury Committee for being “wilfully obtuse” with their evidence. 

McEwan warned that RBS still faces many “bumps in the road”. GRG could yet be responsible for some of them.