August 2, 2018 / 6:24 AM / 4 months ago

Soaring profit fails to quell Barclays investment bank debate

LONDON (Reuters) - Barclays’ (BARC.L) second-quarter pretax profits almost trebled in the absence of hefty payouts for legal problems but the British lender faced further questions about the role of investment banking in its strategy.

Barclays reported pretax profit of 1.9 billion pounds ($2.5 billion) for the April-June quarter, up from 659 million pounds a year ago and higher than the 1.46 billion average of analysts’ estimates compiled by the bank.

The improved profitability showed years of restructuring starting to pay off for Barclays, one of the big five that dominate the banking industry in Britain.

But little improvement to income at its investment bank brought the performance of that part of the business back into focus after questions raised by activist investor Edward Bramson.

“It is the first quarter for some time with no significant litigation or conduct charges, restructuring costs, or other exceptional expenses which hit profitability,” American CEO Jes Staley said in a statement.

Income in the investment bank rose just 1 percent in the first half of 2018, largely due to outperformance in the equities division, where revenues rose by 30 percent bolstered by strong sales of derivatives products.

Barclays shares initially rose on Thursday but were down 0.9 percent by 0930 GMT against a 1.7 percent fall in the broader STOXX Europe banks index .SX7P.

“If you could invest in Barclays excluding the investment bank it would be a great investment. Sadly you cannot – and it now looks like 2018 is shaping up to be another strong start followed by weak second half,” analyst Edward Firth at broker KBW said.

FILE PHOTO: A Barclays logo is pictured outside the Barclays towers in Johannesburg, South Africa, December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

The Barclays investment banking performance compared favorably with European peers which have struggled in recent months, but paled in comparison with U.S. peers which have reported their best revenues since 2011.

ACTIVIST PRESSURE

Staley faces a call to cut back the trading arm of the investment bank from Bramson, the New York financier who disclosed a surprise 5 percent stake in Barclays in February.

Bramson has argued in presentations to his investors that the lender should pare parts of the investment bank that do not directly serve corporate clients.

“We are in conversations with Bramson, I have met him, and we look forward to meeting him post these results, but he has not outlined what his strategy is to us,” Staley told reporters on a conference call.

Barclays’ core capital ratio, a key measure of financial strength, rose to 13 percent, just above analysts’ average forecast of 12.9 percent.

That number had been depleted by fines and misconduct costs and was a source of concern for investors in recent months, fuelling speculation the bank might need to raise fresh capital.

The bank said it would pay an interim dividend of 2.5 pence per share, above analysts’ expectations and above the 1 pence paid at the same time a year ago.

Barclays still faces a raft of problems that threaten to dent its numbers in future.

The UK’s Serious Fraud Office is seeking to resurrect its prosecution of Barclays over undisclosed payments to Qatari investors, and the bank faces a host of investigations into interest rate manipulation and its conduct in foreign exchange trading.

Barclays separately announced on Thursday it is taking a minority stake in MarketInvoice, a financial technology firm which allows small businesses to borrow money secured against invoices to their customers.

Editing by Sinead Cruise/Keith Weir

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