Investors break ceasefire over Barclays' Agius

Shareholders' anger at Barclays spreads
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The Independent Online

Barclays chairman, Marcus Agius, faces renewed pressure to step down after representatives of leading shareholders broke a tacit ceasefire and called for his head last week.

Angry investors met bank executives on Thursday when they are understood to have indicated their intention to vote against the re-election of Mr Agius at the annual meeting on 23 April. "The recent share price rally might have placated some shareholders, but not us," a source close to the rebellion said. "The long-term concerns about Barclays remain. A change of chairman is needed."

Legal & General, the biggest investor in the FTSE 100, which holds nearly 5 per cent of Barclays, is already said to be planning to vote against Mr Agius.

Mr Agius faced considerable investor ire last November when Barclays shunned a traditional City rights issue, raising cash instead from Middle Eastern investors, the Qatar Investment Authority and Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, on terms considered expensive by many.

Despite the fund raising, analysts estimate that Barclays will need a further capital injection of £17bn soon. Asheefa Sarangi, an analyst at Société Générale, said recently: "We struggle to be convinced that Barclays' business model and its risk-management abilities are superior enough to its peers to warrant operating with about 25 per cent less capital and 13 to 15 times more leverage."

Mr Agius, 62, became chairman in January 2007 after a career of more than 30 years with Lazard, the City investment bank. A former non-executive chairman of BAA who remains the senior independent director at the BBC, Mr Agius was a central player in the creation of HBOS, where he advised Halifax in its merger with Bank of Scotland in 2001. In 2007, he headed Barclays' attempt to pay £46bn for ABN Amro, the Dutch bank which was eventually bought by a consortium including Royal Bank of Scotland.

In January, Mr Agius was forced into the unusual step of issuing an open letter to shareholders intended to reassure them about the bank's capital strength and its profitability.

Barclays' share price climbed more than 18 per cent last week, buoyed by the bank's decision to abstain from the Government's asset protection scheme and the sale of its iShares subsidiary for £3bn, assuaging some investor concerns about the bank's once shaky capital position.

The bank, which has axed more than 2,000 UK jobs in the past 12 months, had to lend £2.1bn to CVC, the private equity firm, to enable the iShares deal to go through. The deal was in part brokered by Lazard.

Barclays president, Bob Diamond, is expected to pocket up to £5m from the sale, which has already drawn an angry response from Vince Cable, the Lib Dem's Treasury spokesman: "It [the iShares sale] was not to enable a handful of extremely well-paid managers to line their pockets further. It is absolutely imperative that the Government does not allow them access to the asset protection scheme. Barclays is now on its own." A Barclays spokesman declined to comment.