Business secretary speaks out against rush to sell bailed-out bank, saying it could be used to make sector more competitive
The business secretary, Vince Cable, is urging the chancellor to consider breaking up Royal Bank of Scotland to boost competition in the financial sector instead of dashing to privatise the bailed-out lender.
He waded into the debate about the future of RBS after reports that George Osborne was hoping for a quick selloff. Cable said: “I don’t see the need for any haste.”
Sir Philip Hampton, the bank’s chairman, said on Friday that the clean-up of the battered lender would be “substantially complete” by 2014, allowing the Treasury to start selling shares before the general election. But Cable is keen to ensure that all options remain on the table, including breaking the bank up. “There’s a lot to be said for the idea of using RBS to create a more competitive banking sector,” he said. Insiders have argued that splitting up RBS would create insurmountable legal and practical problems, but Cable said: “You probably could create separate entities and I’m sure that would be healthy.”
Encouraging competition in banking is a key aim of the coalition and ministers were disappointed by the collapse last month of a deal under which the Co-operative Bank sought to buy more than 600 branches from Lloyds Banking Group, creating a powerful mutually owned “challenger bank”.
Cable said consumers and businesses had been left with even less choice than before the financial crisis. “It’s become very, very narrow, and it almost entirely consists of shareholder banks,” he said. RBS was bailed out by Alistair Darling, the then Labour chancellor, in the financial crisis in late 2008. It required two fresh recapitalisations the following year as the shaky state of its finances became clearer, receiving a total of £45bn.
With lending to small businesses in Britain’s recession-scarred economy still falling, despite a series of government initiatives, the future of RBS has become a fraught political issue. Senior figures, including the archbishop of Canterbury and former Tory chancellor Lord Lawson, have called for it to be broken up into a “bad bank”, with legacy loans from the boom years, and a “good bank” that would then be free to make new loans. Some campaigners have argued that it should be split into a series of regional lenders that could focus on small businesses.
Tony Greenham, of the New Economics Foundation thinktank, said: “It absolutely should not be flogged off: why would you turn the clock back to a banking system that was so manifestly dysfunctional before 2008 by just selling it back?” The share price of both RBS and Lloyds Banking Group remain well below the average paid by the government when it part-nationalised them.
Samuel Tombs, of Capital Economics, said: “The bottom line is that a selloff of the government’s stakes in the banks would be no quick fix for either the public finances or the problems in the lending market.”
But some Tory strategists believe that selling at a loss would be better than hanging on to RBS beyond the election. A Treasury spokesman insisted the chancellor was willing to examine alternatives to a full privatisation and denied any rush to offload the bank. “It’s a company that’s gradually returning to health, but it is gradual: it’s still quite a long slog,” he said.
Troubled Spanish lender Bankia announces a return to profit after a disastrous 2012 that saw record losses and an EU-sponsored bailout.
Excerpt from: Spain’s Bankia returns to profit
Mortgage loans and profits fell at the nation’s largest home lender, which reported better-than-expected earnings.
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Volkswagen Credit and Audi Financial Services Become the First Manufacturer’s Captive Finance Arms to Successfully Execute a Fully Electronic Financing Process Between Dealer and Lender
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Commerzbank, Germany’s second biggest lender, says it will post a net loss of 720m euros (£621m) for the fourth quarter.
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Industry body says raising a deposit and getting a mortgage ‘are beginning to loom less large’ as obstacles to buying home
Is the mortgage freeze beginning to thaw? One of the main industry bodies for banks and building societies seems to think so, with a prediction yesterday that mortgage lending this year will be up 9% on 2012 as borrowers take advantage of greater home loan availability and more attractive rates.
The Council of Mortgage Lenders said house-buying activity was “robust” in the last three months of 2012, and claimed that recent household surveys indicated that raising a deposit and getting a mortgage “are beginning to loom less large” as obstacles to buying a home.
Its prediction coincided with Lloyds Banking Group’s announcement yesterday that it was committing £6.5bn towards helping first-time buyers get on the housing ladder by the end of 2013 – the largest such sum so far set aside by a lender.
That is clearly good news for borrowers, and suggests the government’s “funding for lending” scheme – which went live in August and allows lenders to borrow money from the Bank of England at below market rates – is finally starting to have an impact.
But question marks remain over whether such moves will lead to a big increase in the number of mortgages open to those who can only manage a small deposit of perhaps 5% of the property’s value. Only a small handful of lenders – mainly smaller players such as the Newcastle, Melton Mowbray and Hanley Economic building societies – offer “standard” mortgages allowing people to borrow 95% of the property’s value.
In recent months, banks and building societies have cut mortgage rates to some of the lowest levels ever seen – but these headline-grabbing deals have typically been reserved for those customers borrowing no more than 60% or 70%. For example, HSBC and Yorkshire building society are among the lenders currently offering two-year fixed-rate mortgages priced at 1.99%, provided the customer is borrowing no more than 60% of the value of the property.
Ben Thompson, managing director of Legal & General Mortgage Club, said: “The real winners remain the fortunate few who fall into the ‘low risk’ category of lending. However, there is a large market of first-time buyers who remain underserviced, with low-risk lending becoming increasingly commoditised and overcrowded. As a result of this, aAt some point there will need to be a shift in lending criteria, with banks and building societies moving up the risk curve and offering higher LTVs.”
David Hollingworth at mortgage broker London & Country added: “This doesn’t herald a big rush of lenders looking to offer 95%. That is still very much at the margins.”
Nevertheless, lenders have been jostling to prove their first-time buyer-friendly credentials of late. In November, HSBC said it had approved £4bn of lending to those who had never bought before during the first nine months of 2012, which translated into help for 33,000 buyers. That same month, Nationwide claimed it was responsible for almost one in five of all new mortgages to first-time buyers. Meanwhile, Barclays has just introduced a new deal called Family Springboard, aimed at giving new buyers access to an affordable fixed-rate mortgage with a 5% deposit, provided their family opens a savings account linked to the loan into which they put 10% of the purchase price for three years.
Southend in Essex experienced the biggest house price rise during 2012, says leading UK mortgage lender, the Halifax.
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House prices bounced back slightly in November, but are still lower than a year ago, says the Halifax mortgage lender.
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Anglo Irish Bank is suing its former auditor Ernst & Young for failing to spot the lender’s massive exposure to the Irish property bubble.
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