RBS to be taken over by British government

November 28, 2008 10:37:09 AM PST
The British government will take over Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC with a majority stake of almost 60 percent after the shareholders of the nation's second-largest bank shunned an emergency share issue. The 20 billion pound ($31 billion) rescue takeover, the result of a plan announced last month, means that dividends on common shares will be scrapped and top executives' bonuses will be canceled. Chief Executive Fred Goodwin has resigned and Chairman Tom McKillop, who last week personally apologized to shareholders for the 85 percent fall in the bank's share value, has said he will retire next year.

RBS's 1.8 trillion pounds in assets are topped among U.K. banks only by those of HSBC. Its operations around the world include Citizens Financial Group, a commercial bank holding company headquartered in Providence, R.I., and Greenwich Capital Markets, based in Greenwich, Conn.

Fears about the solvency of RBS intensified this year as the global credit crisis contributed to it writing off 5.9 billion pounds ($9.2 billion) in bad loans. A third of that was due to last year's ill-timed euro14 billion acquisition of part of Dutch bank ABN Amro.

The government's shares will be held by a company called UK Financial Investments LTD. Its charge is to maximize value for taxpayers and prevent politicians from making business decisions about the bank.

"The investment will be managed at an arm's length from government," the Treasury spokesman said.

The bank, which has indicated it could post its first ever annual loss this year, was forced to resort last month to the British government's bailout plan, which offered as much as 37 billion pounds to prop up RBS and two other U.K.-based banks, Lloyds TSB Group PLC and HBOS PLC. In all three cases, the government guaranteed to buy any shares not purchased by investors.

At the government's request, RBS announced a share issue a month ago at 65.5 pence a share. But because its share price has fallen by almost a quarter since then, investors knew the government, in its role as guarantor of the issue, would end up having to shoulder the full amount when the deadline expired Friday. The result is an immediate $5 billion pound paper loss for taxpayers.

Only 0.2 percent of the shares were taken up by investors, leaving the state with the balance and boosting its ownership stake to 57.9 percent. Three-quarters of Friday's 20 billion-pound government investment was in ordinary shares and the remainder was preference shares.

Shares in RBS fell 2.4 percent to 53.7 pence on the London Stock Exchange Friday as investors braced for dividend payments to be cut.

As long as the government owns preferential shares, its restrictions on dividends and bonuses will be enforced. The bank had already scrapped a cash dividend for the first half of the fiscal year 2008, paying instead a dividend in shares.

A Treasury spokesman, who declined to be named because of government policy, called the government's imminent purchase of the stake in RBS "the next step" in "a process that supports financial stability, protects ordinary savers, depositors, businesses and borrowers; while safeguarding the interests of the taxpayer."

The drastic fundraising plan comes on top of a 12 billion pounds rights issue by RBS earlier this year - at the time the biggest ever rights issue in Europe.

RBS shares were above 380 pence last December, and above 200 pence as recently as Sept. 26.

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