March 1, 2016 / 10:04 AM / 2 years ago

Barclays to exit Africa in 'transatlantic' makeover

A woman walks from a banking hall within the Barclays Bank Kenya head offices in the capital Nairobi, March 1, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

LONDON (Reuters) - Barclays Plc will sell its Africa business as part of a plan by new Chief Executive Jes Staley to simplify the bank’s structure and seek higher shareholder returns, it said after reporting a 2 percent profit drop and slashing its dividend.

The British lender plans to sell its 62 percent stake in Barclays Africa Group over the next two to three years, ending its presence on the continent after more than a century and becoming a “transatlantic” bank focused on the United States and Britain.

It would then concentrate on two divisions, Barclays UK and Barclays Corporate and International, to comply with ring-fencing regulations aimed at safeguarding its retail banking business from riskier operations.

The bank said it was cutting its dividend to 3 pence per share from 2016 from 6.5p in 2015, a move Staley said would help Barclays maintain capital levels while it disposes of unwanted assets. Its shares fell as much as 10.5 percent on Tuesday before recovering slightly to be down 9 percent by 1530 GMT.

“We are acutely aware of our shareholders being tired of the time it has taken to restructure Barclays,” Staley said in his first results announcement since taking over one of the most prominent roles in British business in December.

Adjusted pretax profit fell to 5.4 billion pounds ($7.5 billion) for the year to Dec. 31 from 5.5 billion a year earlier, below an average forecast of 5.8 billion.

Staley told reporters he was comfortable with the bank’s capital position, dismissing some concerns that Barclays might need a cash call to bring its common equity Tier 1 (CET1) ratio, a key measure of financial strength, closer in line with rivals.

“There is no need for a rights issue,” Staley told reporters.

SWEEPING CUTS

The bank’s CET1 stood at 11.4 percent, from 10.3 percent a year earlier, while its leverage ratio improved to 4.5 percent.

“While we believe that the cut in dividend will be taken negatively initially, it will help to allay fears of capital weakness,” analysts at Haitong Research wrote.

Staley said it will take two to three years to sell the bank’s majority shareholding of Barclays Africa Group and it could keep a minority part of the stake beyond that deadline. A lack of obvious suitors and dimmed economic growth prospects in Africa could make the sale difficult.

In the few months since Staley’s appointment, Barclays has made sweeping cuts across its investment bank and exited several businesses including in Asia, aiming to trim costs, reduce risk and shore up its balance sheet.

However, legacy issues continue to hurt the bank, with 4.01 billion pounds of provisions made against an array of regulatory missteps, compared with 2.36 billion a year earlier.

Barclays made an additional provision in the fourth quarter of 1.45 billion pounds for mis-selling loan insurance, more than doubling its total for the year to 2.77 billion. It has set aside 7.42 billion in total to compensate customers.

It also said it is cooperating with the U.S. Department of Justice and the SEC on an investigation into its hiring practices in Asia, becoming the latest bank to disclose involvement in the wide-ranging probe.

Additional reporting by Richa Naidu; Editing by Sinead Cruise and David Holmes

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