Banking arm to blame for Co-op pain as it delivers writedown and sets aside cash to compensate customers for mis-sold PPI
The Co-operative Group has been dragged to a £600m loss by its banking arm, casting fresh doubt on the grocer and funeral operator’s ability to take over 632 branches being sold by Lloyds Banking Group.
The £662m of losses in the banking arm were caused by setting aside £150m to cover claims for mis-sold payment protection insurance, together with a £150m writedown of IT systems and £377m of bad loan losses, largely from its Britannia building society business.
“The bank is not immune to the terrible problems impacting the financial services sector,” chief executive Peter Marks said. The Co-op’s total provision for PPI mis-selling – which for the industry has reached more than £12bn – is £244m.
Presenting his last set of results after 40 years with Britain ‘s largest mutual, Marks described 2012 as a “challenging year” but insisted that progress was being made on the Lloyds deal, which would triple the Co-op’s branch network and transform the group into a major competitor to the big four banks.
He insisted that the Financial Services Authority had not expressed any concerns about the deal or about the capital position of its banking arm.
Even so, he has put the Co-op’s insurance arm up for sale after finally agreeing this week to sell its life assurance and savings business to Royal London.
“These moves are in line with our strategy of focusing on our banking activities and will also strengthen our capital position,” Marks said.
He blamed the economic backdrop for the poor performance of the bank, which reported a profit of £138m a year ago, and stressed that the bank’s core tier-one capital ratio – closely watched by regulators as a measure of financial strength – had increased to 9.2% from 8.8% at the end of last year and was above the regulatory minimum.
Marks was unable to give specific reasons why the sale of the Lloyds branches – known as Verde and being forced upon Lloyds by the EU as a condition of its £20bn bailout – was not finalised eight months after it was announced in July.
“We’re trying to conclude this transaction in very difficult economic times. That’s what makes it more difficult. We’re trying to establish what the risks are and to mitigate those risks,” Marks said.
Marks will be replaced by Euan Sutherland, previously boss of DIY chain B&Q, in May.
Marks’ career with the Co-operative movement began in 1967 when he started as a shelf stacker. He said he preferred to focus on operating profits, which were £54m, down from £526m a year ago.
In the grocery business, there was a 0.7% fall in like-for-like food sales and a fall in operating profit from £318m to £288m.
The specialist businesses of pharmacies, legal services and funeral homes reported a rise in operating profit to £107m from £99m, largely driven by a better performance in the funeral business.
The full-year dividend, which goes to members, is not announced until June, but the interim payment of £104m, declared in November, was down from £142m.
Banks analyst Gary Greenwood at Shore Capital described the results of the banking arm as “very grim reading”.
“The absolute capital position appears weak to us and, alongside weak profitability, will no doubt raise questions as to the ability of the Co-op to complete an acquisition of project Verde from Lloyds.
“This may not be such a bad outcome for Lloyds, in our view, given the rally in bank share prices since the deal was originally announced last year on what appeared to us to be terms that were very penal to Lloyds.”