RBS takes $5.1 billion hit in bid to break from past

Wed Jan 27, 2016 5:51am EST
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By Jane Merriman and Sinead Cruise

LONDON (Reuters) - Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L: Quote) tried to put its troubled past behind it on Wednesday by making a 3.6 billion pound ($5.1 billion) provision to top up its pension fund and make amends for British and U.S. mis-selling.

Chief Executive Ross McEwan has been trying to clean up RBS so that the UK can shed the 73 percent stake it holds following the bank's 46 billion pound rescue during the financial crisis.

Wednesday's surprise provisions, which include a goodwill writedown at its private bank, will result in a 2.5 billion pound hit to profit in the fourth quarter, the bank warned, sending its shares down 3.2 percent by 1024 GMT (5:24 a.m. ET).

The news wipes out any expectation of a profit for the year at RBS, which has not made a profit for seven years. In a 'buy' note published on Monday, analysts at UBS had estimated pretax profits of just 354 million pounds for 2015 as a whole.

"I am determined to put the issues of the past behind us and make sure RBS is a stronger, safer bank. We will now continue to move further and faster in 2016 to clean-up the bank and improve our core businesses," said McEwan, who joined in October 2013.

The provisions unveiled on Wednesday will dent the bank's common equity Tier 1 capital ratio - a key measure of financial strength, by 1.6 percentage points to 14.6 percent.

Shareholders and analysts bemoaned the rising costs of cleaning up historical problems and continued uncertainty about what RBS will need to pay to settle U.S. investigations into claims it misled investors in mortgage-backed securities.

"The benefit of being strongly capitalized is that these issues may now be dealt with more quickly but there are still several large and lumpy items – mainly the settlement with the DoJ – where predicting the size of any charge is difficult," one of the bank's thirty largest shareholders told Reuters.   Continued...

People walk past a branch of The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) in central London August 27, 2014. REUTERS/Toby Melville