RBS hit by $2bn loss

The Royal Bank of Scotland Group says it will take longer than anticipated to resume shareholder pay-outs, after reporting its eight consecutive annual loss.

The net loss narrowed to £1.9bn ($2.8bn) in 2015, from £3.5bn a year earlier, RBS said in a statement on Friday [1].

Chief Executive Officer, Ross McEwan, is facing a crucial year in efforts to resume dividends for the first time since the bank’s bail out funded by the taxpayer in 2008.

The bank said its outstanding issues, which include a potential settlement with American authorities over sales of mortgage-backed securities, mean it is now “more likely that capital distributions will resume later” than its original target of the first quarter of 2017 [1].

Ian Gordon, an analyst at Investec Bank Plc, said of the bank’s shares: “You’ve got to be taking a greater than one year view on capital return and a three-to-four year view on normalization of earnings, and that’s a timeframe which exceeds most investors’ appetite” [1].

Their shares dropped 8.4% to 223.40p at 10:19 am in London, after falling earlier by as much as 12% in the biggest intraday decline since June 2012 [1].

The volatility of the bank is adding pressure to the government to privatise it. Particularly after Chancellor George Osborne said in October that he was planning to reduce the government’s 73% stake in the bank [2].

The Chancellor began the bank’s privatisation in August by selling £2.1bn of shares, which led to taxpayers losing £1.1bn in the process [2].

McEwan revealed a big restructuring strategy last year that involved shrinking the investment bank and leaving 25 of the 38 countries in which it operated, to focus on the UK. After accounting for these charges and a contingency fund set aside, RBS posted a pre-tax operating profit of £4.4bn, down from £6.1bn in 2014 [2].

McEwan said he expected most of the “heavy restructuring” to be completed by the end of this year, enabling “future capital distribution” [2].

[1] Bloomberg. ‘RBS plummets as bank pushes out dividend after annual losses’.
[2] Financial Times. ‘Blow for Osborne as RBS hit by £2bn loss’.