Coronavirus: Barclays says loans worth £4.8bn may never be repaid

Written By: BBC

PHOTO | BBC

Barclays has reported a big drop in annual profits, having set aside billions of pounds for loans expected to turn sour due to the pandemic.

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The bank reported a 30% fall in pre-tax profits to £3.1bn for 2020, down from £4.3bn in 2019.

It was forced to set aside £4.8bn to cover loans unlikely to be paid back amid the economic fallout of Covid.

Despite that the bank announced it would resume dividends, with a payment of 1p per share to shareholders.

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‘Resilient and diversified’

The bank has been one of the biggest providers of emergency loans during the coronavirus crisis, having given some £27bn worth to businesses.

It has also provided more than 680,000 payment holidays globally for customers with mortgages, credit cards and loans.

Barclays warned that pandemic-related costs would remain high throughout the coming year, but that it expected loan loss charges to be “materially below” last year’s hit.

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Some £492m was set aside to cover expected defaults by borrowers in the final three months of 2020, but that was down nearly a fifth on the previous quarter.

Barclays added that investment banking trading had helped to offset the impact of the Covid crisis on its retail arm, with its “best ever year” for markets and banking income helping to keep the group in profit.

“We expect that our resilient and diversified business model will deliver a meaningful improvement in returns in 2021,” group chief executive Jes Staley said.

Banking analyst Philip Augar told the BBC’s Today programme that “it’s clearly not great news” for the bank.

“I suppose the consolation for the economy and for Barclays shareholders is that it could have been worse.

“The amount that they’ve been providing against bad loans has been less, quarter by quarter, and that might be a sign that we’re past the worst, but they’re pretty cautious in what they say.”

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He added that he felt it was “prudent” for the bank to resume dividends payments to shareholders, after regulators permitted this in December.

Banks had been told to stop making the payments in March last year in order to build up capital to absorb potential loan losses caused by the pandemic.

In addition to the dividend,  is also set to return cash to investors via a share buyback (where companies listed on the stock market purchase some of their own shares) of up to £700m.

Bonuses rise

In its annual report published alongside the results on Thursday, Barclays revealed its staff bonus pool was 6% higher than the £1.5bn shared out in 2019.

It said this represented a “relatively modest increase across the investment banking businesses, reductions for all other businesses and appropriate recognition for the contributions of our more junior colleagues”.

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Mr Staley took home £4.01m last year, although that was down on the £5.9m paid out in 2019.

Dividends and bonuses against the backdrop of the coronavirus crisis will remain in sharp focus this week. State-backed banking giant NatWest is also set to report its annual results on Friday.

Richard Hunter, head of markets at Interactive Investor, said that coronavirus vaccine developments had boosted the outlook for the economy and banks.

“Should the rollout of the vaccine lead to a quicker than expected economic recovery, it could even result in provisions for bad debts being significantly lower than the ones the banks announced last year.”

But he warned: “Headwinds remain for the sector in light of historically low interest rates, which put severe downward pressure on margins.”

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