Barclays risks forcing showdown over leverage ratio

Antony Jenkins Barclays

Perhaps Antony Jenkins, the boss of Barclays, should have read the Bank of England's financial stability report before threatening to hold back on lending to the economy in response to the central bank's demand that it starts getting in shape to meet a new measure of financial health.

The half-yearly health check of the financial markets that was published last week listed the actions banks can take to reduce their risks without having an impact on how much they lend.

Option one, as the report puts it, is to raise capital - something most banks want to avoid and few shareholders seem willing to countenance. Option two is to sell off non-core assets or reduce assets in their risky trading books. "This would reduce the asset side of the balance sheet and any associated funding on the liability side of the balance," the report said.

The current row is over the leverage ratio, a measure of how much a bank is sweating its assets, and in Barclays' case the ratio is 2.5%. As Robert Jenkins, a former Bank of England policymaker, puts it, this means Barclays borrows 97.5p of every £1 it risks in lending.

International rules require this ratio to be 3% by the start of 2019 and the Bank of England caught both Barclays and the Nationwide building society on the hop by requiring them to submit plans by last weekend showing how they intend to hit this ratio.

Reducing risk in the banking system seems laudable, as has been previously argued, but the Bank did itself no favours when its new banking regulator, the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), refused to say whether it wants this target to be hit sooner rather than later.

So when Andrew Bailey, the head of the PRA, appears at the Treasury select committee on Tuesday, he would do well to answer two questions. Firstly, does the PRA want the new leverage ratio to be met before 2019? And secondly, Barclays is one the banks that has been lending to households and businesses and with it appears to have met a test of financial strength set by Sir Mervyn King, who pointed out that the strongest banks were the ones still lending. Does Barclays have enough capital or not?

But by complaining so much about the leverage ratio, Barclays - which a year ago this week was attending select committees to explain its role in the Libor rigging scandal - may well have handed Bailey the ammunition he needs to make it happen soon.

Powered by article was written by Jill Treanor, for on Monday 1st July 2013 16.23 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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