RBS posts record British loss, offloads toxic assets

Royal Bank of Scotland posted a 2008 loss of 24.1 billion pounds -- a British corporate record -- and said it will ring-fence 325 billion pounds of risky assets in a government insurance scheme.

india Updated: Feb 27, 2009 08:17 IST

Royal Bank of Scotland on Thursday posted a 2008 loss of 24.1 billion pounds -- a British corporate record -- and said it will ring-fence 325 billion pounds of risky assets in a government insurance scheme.

The gigantic loss, equivalent to 34 billion dollars or 27 billion euros, was as a result of the credit crunch and the costly and mis-timed takeover of Dutch lender ABN Amro.

The disastrous results for the bank, which is 70-percent owned by the state after a massive bailout, contrasted sharply with a net profit of 6.8 billion pounds in 2007.

In addition, the British government has agreed to insure "toxic" assets worth 325 billion pounds in its Asset Protection Scheme (APS) and will cover 90 percent of losses stemming from such holdings.

"What we're trying to do... is clean up the banking system so it does the job it's intended to do," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told Sky News, adding that he wanted to get banks lending again.

RBS, which has already taken 20 billion pounds of government funds, said it will raise another 13 billion pounds of state money in return for more shares.

The government's shareholding, in terms of votes, will be capped at 75 percent but RBS chief executive Stephen Hester said the state's interest in the group could rise as high as 95 percent -- close to full nationalisation.

"We owe our continued independence to the UK government and taxpayers and are very thankful for their support," added RBS Chairman Philip Hampton in the results statement.

"The external environment has seen unprecedented turbulence in bank and other financial markets and deteriorating economic conditions around the world.

"Our disappointing financial results reflect these circumstances and our exposure to them."

Lloyds Banking Group, which is 43-per cent state-owned after a similar bailout, added it was in talks to take part in the toxic assets scheme and would update the market on Friday when it also publishes annual results.

Meanwhile, a political storm blew up after it emerged that former RBS boss Fred Goodwin -- widely blamed for leading it into disaster -- is drawing an annual pension of more than 650,000 pounds despite being just 50 years old.

British finance minister Alistair Darling said this was unacceptable and he had formally asked Goodwin to forego the 16-million-pound package.

"People will find it very hard to understand that you can be paid 650,000 pounds a year for the rest of your life when just look at the state RBS is in," he told BBC radio.

Hampton, speaking to reporters, said that Goodwin would "think about" giving up some of his pension.

"I have asked Fred if, given the events of recent times, would he make a voluntary reduction in his pension. He said he would think about it but I haven't heard back yet," he said.

The bank revealed on Thursday that it was forced to write off 16.2 billion pounds in 2008 on the disastrous record-breaking consortium acquisition of ABN Amro in 2007 at the top of the market.

In addition, the partly-nationalised RBS made charges on bad debt -- on consumer loans that are written off -- totalling 7.0 billion pounds.

The group will meanwhile split into two parts, hiving off its riskier holdings into a "non-core" division of assets worth around 540 billion pounds that will be wound down over the next five years.

RBS will also pay 6.5 billion pounds to take part in the Asset Protection Scheme, aimed at stimulating bank lending in recession-hit Britain.

In return for its participation, RBS will commit to lend 25 billion pounds to consumers and businesses this year and a similar amount in 2010.

Hester, Goodwin's successor, also announced plans to cut 2.5 billion pounds in costs across RBS by 2011 as he battles to restore the group to health, saying this would "regrettably" led to more job losses. Reports have suggested that up to 20,000 jobs could go.

The move will see RBS sell off and withdraw or reduce operations in 36 countries to re-focus activities on the domestic market.

In morning trade, the share price jumped by as much as 40 per cent as investors cheered the results, which were better than a feared 28-billion-pound loss, and the toxic assets plan.

RBS stock finished on Thursday at 29 pence, up 25.54 per cent from Wednesday's close.

First Published: Feb 26, 2009 23:14 IST