Barclays sparks anger over bonuses

 

Barclays was accused of ignoring anger over bonuses and running "business as usual" as it revealed a £1.5 billion pot for investment bankers today.

A 32% cut to the bonus pool at Barclays Capital in 2011 was in line with a 32% fall in profits at the investment arm and did not signal the change required, major shareholder group the Association of British Insurers (ABI) warned.

Providing more disclosure on bonuses in its annual results than previously, the bank said the average bonus for staff at Barclays Capital was cut by 30% to £64,000 in 2011 while the group's total bonus pool was down 25% at £2.2 billion.

However, chief executive Bob Diamond refused to be drawn on questions about his own bonus, amid reports he could be in line to receive a £3 million payout.

Robert Talbut, ABI investment committee chairman, said: "Whilst overall bonus levels at Barclays have been reduced, for Barclays Capital, this reduction is only in line with the fall in profit before tax. This appears to be very close to business as usual.

"It is not the signal of the change required in order to improve the investment case."

In response, Mr Diamond said: "We stay close with our shareholders and they are very supportive."

Addressing the wider issue of bonuses, the American banker said: "We need to balance remaining competitive with being responsive to the public mood."

The bank's moves to cap and slash bonuses were not enough to appease unions and anti-poverty campaigners as "serious questions exist about the moral backbone of those running the financial service sector".

The results come after weeks of conflict over bankers' bonuses, in which Royal Bank of Scotland chief Stephen Hester turned down his £963,000 bonus amid mounting pressure and Lloyds boss Antonio Horta-Osorio waived his payout following a leave of absence.

Asked if Mr Hester was right to waive his bonus given the current climate, Mr Diamond again refused to comment.

Barclays, which reported pre-tax profits of £5.9 billion for 2011, down 3% on the previous year, said it introduced a cap on the cash part of bonuses for investment bankers at £65,000.

The results said annual incentives for executive directors and the eight highest paid senior executive officers were down 48% compared to 2010 on a like-for-like basis, though Mr Diamond would not confirm how his own pay fitted into this decline.

But he confirmed Barclays would reveal the pay of the top eight highest paid staff at the bank when it publishes the annual report in mid-March.

Mr Diamond said the mood surrounding the industry was not positive but the private sector would only deliver much-needed growth to the wider economy with a "confident" banking sector.

David Fleming, Unite national officer, said: "The announcement on bonuses today by Barclays is yet another illustration of the banking sector continuing to ignore the public outrage and disgust at their behaviour."

David Hillman, spokesman for the Robin Hood Tax campaign, said: "Bob Diamond can only be hiding his bonus because he fears it will look unreasonable to most ordinary people. His potential pay package alone would keep hundreds of nurses and teachers in jobs."

Mr Diamond hailed Barclay's business lending record in 2011 as it beat the Project Merlin targets drawn up between Britain's top five banks and the Government.

Barclays delivered £43.6 billion of gross new lending to UK businesses, including £14.7 billion to small and medium-sized enterprises, exceeding its Merlin target by 13%.

"We really got on our horses to get businesses going," Mr Diamond said and later added: "We don't need Project Merlin - lending is what we do."

The improved lending figures came as the business revealed income growth in every division but investment arm BarCap.

The UK retail and business banking division, where customers increased by 3% to 760,000, saw pre-tax profits increase 60% to £1.4 billion, after stripping out the division's £400 million charge for mis-selling payment protection insurance (PPI).

The number of current accounts increased by 2% to 11.9 million, savings accounts were up 5% to 15.1 million, while mortgages increased 2% to 930,000.

Credit card business Barclaycard saw net operating income increase 21% to £2.8 billion, while pre-tax profits were up 53% to £1.2 billion, excluding the division's £600 million PPI hit.

Meanwhile, the bank slashed its bad debts by 33% to £3.8 billion and cut its debt exposure to struggling eurozone countries Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain by 14% to £7.1 billion.

Barclays shares were 3.5% higher after the results were published, but did dip into the red earlier in the session after it said it would hit its target to generate a return on equity of 13% later than 2013, after reporting a ratio of 6.6% last year.

BarCap saw pre-tax profits drop 32% to £2.96 billion in 2011 as market turmoil, sparked by recession and debt contagion fears in the eurozone, increased throughout the year.

The quarter-by-quarter breakdown at the division shows profits falling from £1.3 billion in the first three months of the year to £267 million in the fourth quarter.

Ian Gordon, analyst at Investec, said: "Bob Diamond's track record is unrivalled but today is not his finest hour."

He added: "It is BarCap's dominance of the group and the weak external environment that render the resilient performance across retail and business banking almost irrelevant."

PA

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