Barclays eyes Africa exit in bank shake-up

1st March 2016, Comments 0 comments

Barclays on Tuesday revealed a further shake-up of the beleaguered bank, unveiling plans to exit its African operations, as it seeks to restore its battered reputation under new leadership.

In a sign that Barclays remains mired in problems, the British lender announced that net losses had more than doubled last year.

The bank also said it was looking into "suspected money laundering related to foreign exchange transactions in South African operation Absa Bank Limited".

The lender, struggling to recover from several scandals, said it would split the bank into two units, focusing on its operations in Britain and the United States.

It comes as Barclays revealed annual losses after tax of £394 million ($549 million, 505 million euros).

The 2015 net loss, compared to one of £174 million a year earlier, was largely the result of money set aside to compensate customers mis-sold a controversial British insurance product known as PPI.

After announcing in January plans to exit Russia, Barclays on Tuesday said it would reduce its majority stake in the group's African unit.

"At the heart of... strategy is to build on our strength as a transatlantic consumer, corporate and investment bank anchored in the two financial centres of the world, London and New York," Barclays said in a statement.

It said it planned to split the company to form Barclays UK as well as Barclays Corporate and International.

Barclays added: "We are today announcing our intention to sell down our 62.3-percent interest in our African business, BAGL, over the coming two to three years."

Barclays Africa Group Limited insisted however that it remained committed to the continent.

"Our destiny is Africa," BAGL chief executive Maria Ramos told a press conference in Johannesburg.

"We have invested massively across the continent in the last three years and will continue to do so."

Ramos said Barclays Africa strategy would not be changing "just because our shareholders are changing".

She added: "Nothing in today's announcements will make us deviate or change our course. We are not exiting our operations in any of our African markets."

- New boss -

Barclays is facing major changes under new chief executive Jes Staley, an American veteran banker who began his latest role in December.

Staley has been tasked with restoring the bank's battered reputation caused by a series of scandals including the rigging of foreign exchange and Libor interest rate markets.

Barclays fired its then-chief executive Antony Jenkins in July as he struggled to turn around the bank's fortunes, but not before he triggered plans to axe thousands of jobs.

A new round of cuts was revealed in January, with Staley slashing 1,200 positions at its investment banking division, alongside news that he was closing offices across Asia.

Barclays is one of several banks implementing job cuts amid a tough investment climate as slowing global growth and stricter capital rules affect lenders.

Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK, said Barclays' move to a two-division bank was "reminiscent of a simpler structure back in the 1980s".

In afternoon trade, shares in Barclays slumped 9.6 percent to 155.5 pence on London's benchmark FTSE 100 index, which was up 0.4 percent overall.

"Barclays has reported a 2.0-percent drop in underlying profits, while also announcing that it will cut its dividend by more than half," Graham Spooner, investment research analyst at The Share Centre, said in reaction to the heavy share price drop.

Barclays is meanwhile more than half way through a three-year plan to cut 19,000 jobs, including 7,000 in the investment bank, and it still faces potential legal suits.

Last May, Barclays was hit with a $2.4-billion fine by US and British regulators for manipulation of foreign exchange trading. Other global banks have been fined over the affair.

Back in 2012, the bank was fined £290 million by British and US regulators for attempted manipulation of Libor and Euribor interbank rates between 2005 and 2009.

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© 2016 AFP

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