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July 31, 2013

Barclays Capital Plan is a Joke

Barclays, one of the UK’s largest banks, has a balance sheet of about 2.5 trillion pounds ($3.8 trillion), roughly the size of the UK’s annual gross domestic product. Barclays was also at the center of the Libor interest rate rigging scandal, which resulted in its CEO resigning. Now under new leadership, Barclays has promised to change its ways.

But to Robert Jenkins, a former British banking regulator, the bank’s recently announced plan to raise more capital does not suggest that anything has changed. Barclays’ plan, which is only necessary because the bank has thus far failed to reach the pathetically low 3% capital minimum required by British banking regulators, is a joke. Mr. Jenkins brilliantly explains why in the Financial Times:

“Barclays currently funds 97.8 per cent of its risk-taking with debt and 2.2 per cent of its exposure with loss-absorbing equity. Prodded by its regulator, Barclays has agreed to reduce its debt funding to 97 per cent and raise its equity funding to £3 for every £100 of risk taken. This is progress. It is certainly better than a poke in the eye with a stick. But does it deserve to be called bold and decisive?”

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“To what extent will Barclays’ management and staff share in the capital-building exercise alongside their shareholders? I presume all shareholding executives and staff will take up the rights issue. I would hope that forthcoming bonuses will be paid in newly issued shares or debt. Perhaps the bonus pool might be trimmed as a contribution to the cause? Alignment of employee and shareholder interests is part of the ‘new’ Barclays, is it not? This is an opportunity to show it.

“Barclays has agreed with its regulators to make its institution a little bit safer a little bit sooner. This is not a bad thing. But becoming 0.8 per cent safer one year from now should not be mistaken for becoming safe and stable. It is progress but it is neither bold nor decisive.”

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Read the full Financial Times op-ed here

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