David Buik Comments: Despite The Bile And Hatred, Bank Shares Are Rising

December 12, 2012, The Independent

When the subject of banks is brought up in conversation it generates unprecedented and understandable waves of bile and hatred from a consumer’s perspective, contempt from politicians and irritation and concern from regulators.

This is hardly surprising. On top of the taxpayers’ liabilities in Northern Rock, HBOS, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) of £100bn, crystallised courtesy of the credit crisis in 2008, there are payment protection insurance liabilities, which may cost £16bn.

Then there are the Libor transgressions which will also cost billions of dollars by way of fines from US regulators, not forgetting the mis-selling of interest-rate swaps.

As the year draws to a close it is worth scrutinising the performance of UK banks.

Barclays’ share price, despite the Bob Diamond syndrome, the unpleasant spat with the Treasury Select Committee and the change in management, has risen 37.5 per cent this year. Lloyds Banking Group has added a whopping 72 per cent in the same period, RBS 42.8 per cent, HSBC 28 per cent and Standard Chartered 2.5 per cent.

Had most investors been asked to invest in UK banks in January, two men in white coats may have been forgiven for taking these analysts away to be sectioned.

There was also the threat of Draconian bank regulation, recommended by the Vickers Independent Commission for Banking and the Bank for International Settlements to take into account.

There is a school of thought, which ventures to suggest that banks may require so much fresh capital, they are not a viable investment proposition. It has also become clear that Sir Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, and Andy Haldane, its executive director for financial stability, believe that there is a very strong case for splitting retail and investment banking. This would, of course, mean vastly increased bank running costs.

However, despite all of these imponderables, the value of these shares has been disproportionate to the adverse publicity that the banks have received.

Even the vilification of HSBC and Standard Chartered by the New York State department of financial services, and the subsequent implementation of fines of $1.9bn (£1.2bn) and $327m respectively, have failed to damage their share prices.

HSBC pleaded guilty as charged and stepped up to the plate, full of abject apologies.

Its compliance director has gone, but one does wonders where that leaves Stephen, Lord Green and Michael Geoghegan, the bank’s former chairman and chief executive, apart, that is, from being hugely embarrassed.

In the case of Standard Chartered, Peter Sands, the chief executive, vigorously defended the bank’s position and only owned up to a $15m worth of transgressions.

Though the bank is well within its rights to do so, I wonder if its move was strategically smart or sensible. Not that Standard Chartered is involved in Libor transgressions, but this may well give the US authorities the excuse to vent their spleen on UK-based banks, rather than bring all banks – including US banks, which also have allegedly transgressed – to book at the same time.

Consequently, it is essential that Chancellor George Osborne does not surrender one inch of sovereignty over bank regulation to the EU.

Just 10 days ago, Christian Noyer, pictured, of La Banque de France, made an astonishing statement that London should be stripped of its status as Europe’s main financial hub and sidelined to allow the eurozone to "control" transactions within the 17-nation bloc.

Let me remind M Noyer that France was within an ace of becoming a Communist country in 1946. It is still a socialist state with a bloated public sector, wholly unqualified to strip London of its raiment.

London is still poised to rise like the phoenix from the current financial ashes as the No. 1 financial centre of the world. Paris, Frankfurt, Milan, Madrid and Milan are all Mickey Mouse centres by comparison.

London is the centre of the global time zone. English is the universally accepted trading language – and London wwwuces the best bankers.

David Buik is the chief market strategist of Cantor Index