UK Banking Sector Watch: Project Merlin, or Wizard of Oz?

Thursday, Feb 10 2011 by
UK Banking Sector Watch Project Merlin or Wizard of Oz

Is it win lose or draw in the Government's agreement with the banks? The Chancellor George Osborne has just published details of Project Merlin. He appears to have won at least some of his arguments and now wants the country to move on as reported here in the Telegraph.

Speaking to the House of Commons, Osborne said: "Let us as a country confront this hard truth - anger and retribution will not bring one percentage point of growth or create one job. The anger will remain and we must never make the same mistakes again, but Britain must move from retribution to recovery."

But is the country ready to listen?

Among other things, the Merlin agreement suggests total bankers' bonuses for 2011 will be lower than for 2010 and lending to business should increase to £190 billion in 2011, from £179 billion in 2010 with fulfillment of at least some these requirements linked to the bank executives' pay.

The agreement is summarised neatly on Citywire here.  Unsurprisingly Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls is certainly not ready to move on describing the project as a "complete shambles" and the concessions offered by banks as "pitiful".  

"We have gone from Project Merlin to the Wizard of Oz," he said.

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But are the comment boards ready to move on? The answer is a resounding 'no'. On the Telegraph Guy Bailey is typical. "They've got away scot free, with us picking up the tab and we're to suck it up lest we hurt their feelings? This Coalition isn't long for the earth," he writes. kavajo stands out, bringing up Osborne's tax sting yesterday, but whether he is supporting banks or just criticising Osborne is hard to tell. He writes: "Hypocrite! Yesterday he stings the banks for a £2.5bn levy and which is to become permanent. Today he says it is time to stop banker-bashing. Hard to do as long you keep taking their money."

The commenters on Citywire, many of whom tend to be small businessmen and women are concerned about the details. They ask whether the lending is net or gross and query instances where a bank might try and translate an overdraft agreement into a loan. Sean Kelly comments: "Is this net or gross lending? If all that happens is the banks lend £190 billion to businesses but call in £200 billion of business credit that's £10 billion out of the economy." 

Richard Ross asks: "I'm not here questioning the rights or wrongs of a term loan over a 'permanent' overdraft but I wonder how much of that 'new' lending to small businesses will simply be restructuring of existing borrowing? My guess is a huge proportion."

Meanwhile BBC business editor Robert Peston's blog makes for interesting reading. In his blow by blow commentary, Peston notes that Santander has only signed up for the lending commitments and not the rest of the deal while two banks have taken advantage of the news deluge to tell the world what bonuses they are paying their chief executives.

Royal Bank Of Scotland (LON:RBS) , which is mostly owned by taxpayers, will pay Stephen Hester £2.04m but in shares he can't sell for three years. Lloyds (LON:LLOY), which is part-owned by taxpayers, will pay Eric Daniels £1.45m, a paltry amount when compared with Barclays Bob Diamond but substantially more than the average wage. 

Will the public be in the mood to move on from retribution when they realise?

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The Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc (RBSG) is a holding company. The Company operates through its banking and financial services subsidiaries, including The Royal Bank of Scotland plc (RBS) and National Westminster Bank Plc (NatWest). The Company’s operations are conducted through various divisions, including UK Retail, UK Corporate, Wealth, International Banking, Ulster Bank, and US Retail & Commercial, Markets and Non-Core Division. UK Retail offers a range of banking products and related financial services to the personal market. UK Corporate is a provider of banking, finance and risk management services. The Wealth division provides private banking and investment services. International Banking serves the companies with a client proposition. Ulster Bank is a retail and commercial bank. The US Retail & Commercial division provides financial services. Markets is an origination, sales and trading business. The Non-Core Division manages various assets of the Company. more »

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Lloyds Banking Group plc is a United Kingdom-based financial services company. The Company provides a range of banking and financial services, primarily in the United Kingdom, to individual and business customers. It operates through four segments: Retail; Commercial Banking; Wealth, Asset Finance and International; and Insurance. Retail provides banking, mortgages and other financial services to personal customers in the United Kingdom. Commercial Banking provides banking and related services to business clients, from small businesses to large corporates. The Wealth, Asset Finance and International segment conducts the Company’s private banking and asset management activities. The segment is also engaged in operating its international retail businesses, and the Company’s United Kingdom and international asset finance and online deposit businesses. Insurance provides long-term savings, protection and investment products as well as general insurance products in the United Kingdom. more »

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1 Comment on this Article show/hide all

Fangorn 10th Feb '11 1 of 1

I'm personally astounded that Eric Daniels is getting "any" bonus after running Lloyds into the ground.

Rather than state owned banks paying bonuses they should instead pay some dividends (what better way fior the taxpayer, the majority shareholder, to start getting a return on their investment). As to those banks that haven't relied on state capital to survive, what they pay to their employees is their business frankly.

Most of the employees at RBS are lucky to have their jobs thanks t o the taxpayer bailing them out. They should count themselves lucky. At the time of the financial crisis there was also alot of talk about how teams could walk to employers paying better packages - highly dubious as nearly every bank wasn't hiring, even if the individual/team looking to move has a great reputation/earnings ability.

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