City Republic: Barclays bites back at the critics
LONDON - A week is a long time on the stock market these days and Barclays CEO John Varley never wants to see another like last week.
On Monday Royal Bank of Scotland, that ornament of the Edinburgh establishment, announced it had lost £8bn in 2008 and was writing down a further £20bn on its acquisition of ABN Amro.
RBS' rival suitor for ABN Amro had been Barclays, a bank with similar ambitions of world domination.
Which had led many analysts to fear that Barclays too had lots of nasties on its balance sheet that it wasn't owning up to, in particular in Barclays Capital, the investment bank-within-a-bank run by cocky American Bob Diamond.
Barclays shares tanked all week, losing 14% of their value on Friday which meant that they had fallen by 90% in just a year, valuing the bank at a bargain basement £4.2bn.
This morning chairman Marcus Agius and Varley wrote an open letter to the market saying that in 2008 its profits were £5.3bn even after writing off £8bn against credit-crunched assets.
The shares soared 24% as the market opened although more cautious counsels may prevail as the day wears on.
The Barclays duo admit that the bank has been "hard-hit" by the credit crunch but affirm that it's profitable (which it clearly is unless this is one the biggest accounting scams in history) and it has sufficient capital, which may be more debatable.
This will be manna from heaven for the Government and the rest of the banking sector.
All last week people were saying that all the big UK banks, including Barclays, would need to be fully nationalized, a disaster for those investors still holding the shares.
And not much of an incentive for anyone else to buy them even though they haven't been this low for decades, if ever.
Barclays has certainly been up front in tackling its critics, a move that would appear to show the influence of Patience Wheatcroft, who was appointed to the Barclays board after stepping down as editor of the Sunday Telegraph, which she joined after a long and distinguished spell as City editor of The Times.
Let's hope that Patience and the other Barclays directors have called this one correctly.
Trouble in the Alps
The World Economic Forum in Davos begins on Wednesday, the world's biggest and most extravagant corporate bean feast, where the masters of the financial universe customarily grandstand before an admiring audience of politicians.
Not this year they won't.
Lots of big names have pulled out including Goldman Sachs and John Thain, boss of Merrill Lynch who was abruptly fired by his new owner Bank of America last week as he was packing his Aviators.
Sony boss Howard Stringer, who's just announced a $2.9bn loss for 2008, has also decided he's got better things to do.
Those that do turn up will, for a change, be lectured and hectored by the politicians for losing all our money.
Some brave souls will still be making the trip (Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP is a big fan) including a few brave bankers such as Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase, which has, so far, emerged in pretty good shape from the crunch, buying the assets of Bear Sterns among others.
The fearless Barclays trio of chairman Marcus Agius, CEO John Varley and Bob Diamond are also still expected. They're due to host a big dinner in a mountain-top restaurant.
At last a deal, all $68bn of it
Pharma giant Pfizer has agreed to pay $68bn for smaller rival Wyeth in a bid to shore up its pipeline of new drugs.
Anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor, which accounts for a quarter of Pfizer's revenues, is coming off patent in 2011 so Pfizer has rather a pressing problem.
But it has still persuaded a handful of banks including Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America and, it's believed, Barclays to stump up $22.5bn of the purchase price.
It plans to pay the rest from its own cash reserves and by issuing bonds.
This is interesting on two counts.
First, it's the biggest US deal since telecoms giant AT&T bought Bell South for $70bn back in 2006, so big deals can still be done.
Secondly, two of the lenders -- Citi and Bank of America of America -- are being heavily-supported by the US government so this may just be a sign of government support starting credit flowing again.
Mind you, there's a fair degree of nervousness about the deal.
Pfizer has also agreed a $4.5bn "break fee" with Wyeth in case the deal doesn't go through (Pfizer wouldn't be able to raise the money if its credit rating was cut).
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