OUTLOOK: The numbers outside the Lloyds spin zone

 

Outlook Well if there's one Lloyds Banking Group executive who deserved his bonus this year it is surely the bank's spin doctor in chief Matt Young for the job he did on the 2013 results.

Lloyds trumpeted a return to “statutory” pre tax profits, talked bullishly about future dividend payments for its long suffering shareholders and felt confident enough to hand its chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio a £1.7m bonus.

Which, by contrast to Barclays' Antony Jenkins or Royal Bank of Scotland's Ross McEwan, he said he would accept (subject to certain conditions) because of the bank's “performance”.

After that lot, one would have thought Mr 'Young would get the lion's share of the £1.34m performance linked package he was hired on.

But if you look behind the numbers, or behind Mr Young's spin, a different picture emerges. When everything is totted up (including tax) Lloyds lost over £800m on the year.

That was almost entirely attributable to the second half of the year, where the numbers make it look like the bank had entered a time machine and gone back three years. The business ended up  a staggering £2.4bn in the red the second half of last year.

Banks, of course, like to report lots of numbers so you can pick and chose. One notable achievement Lloyds made, it's true, was that before tax it made a statutory 2013 profit of £415m. Pre tax profit has long been the most popular measure rather than the profits after tax which I discussed above.

But once again, if you break the numbers down, while the first half was just dandy with a £2.1bn profit the second half saw a £1.7bn loss.

It's true that “underlying profits” grew substantially in the second half. That number, however, doesn't include any provisions for foul ups and troubles with the regulators.

These are rather regular occurrences at banks. So it's a little disingenuous of Lloyds to make a big deal over it.

As Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, says, it has taken far longer than expected for Lloyds to return to normal.

If you take the numbers out of the Lloyds' Banking Group spin zone, it's rather debatable whether it's really back to normal at all. Those provisions just keep on coming.

So while Mr Young might deserve his bonus, the case is much more debatable where Mr Horta-Osorio is concerned.

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