Bottom Line: Bank shares are still a white-knuckle ride

Tim Wallace
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THE ECONOMIC recovery is so firmly underway on both sides of the Atlantic that it almost feels like we are back in a boom.

Stock markets in particular have roared back, fuelled by returning confidence and cheap money.

But not every sector is feeling the love. Banks are still hideously unpredictable for shareholders.

This is not because of their underlying performance – practically every lender has reformed itself since the crash, cutting back ruthlessly on underperforming business lines.

Yet somehow returns, particularly in the UK but also across much of the rich world, remain anaemic.

The problem is partly the flood of new regulation – for instance, formerly profitable fixed income trading businesses have been clobbered with higher costs.

But those rules are at least becoming relatively predictable.

The problem now is the titanic fines imposed by regulators across the world, and particularly in the US.

There is no fighting the charges, and banks certainly have to pay their dues for past ills. But when new claims of wrongdoing pop up almost weekly even six years after Lehman’s crash, it is hard to get excited about investing in any major banks.

What is worse is the accusations do not even cover only the pre-crash era – Barclays has been accused of lying to dark pools clients this year.

Even as growth presents a chance for banks and shareholders, any profits they make could be swiped out of the blue by US investigators.

Don’t buy banks if you want an easy life.