RBS and other UK banks facing first quarter earnings woe after US lenders posted a sharp drop in profit

Billy Bambrough
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RBS is expected to avoid some losses due to its smaller investment banking operation (Source: Getty)

British banks are set to post first quarter profits this week that are weighed down by the rising risk of Brexit, bad debt, and poor investment banking performance.

The difficult period has already dragged down profits at some the biggest US banks, though they largely managed to beat low estimates. Citibank, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase all suffered due to exposure to the energy industry and trading profits stung by the wild market swings earlier this year.

State-backed lender RBS is forecast to post a bottom line loss of £957m, on revenue of £2.93bn. For the same period last year RBS posted a loss of £446m.

In February, RBS posted a pre-tax operating loss for the year of £2.7bn compared with an operating profit of £3.5bn in 2014.

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Analysts say the bank's return to profitability has been impacted by downsizing its investment banking operation, now accounting for just 15 per cent of the bank, and the sell off of its US Citizens arm.

RBS made a payment to the Treasury of £1.19bn in March, which will weigh on its bottom line but frees it up for a return to privatisation. The state-backed lender is still 73 per cent government owned following its bailout in 2008.

Last week challenger bank TSB posted pre-tax profits up 53 per cent from last year to £52.6m in the three months to the end of March, though bigger banks are unlikely to repeat this success.

Lloyds Banking Group, Barclays, and Standard Chartered will post their results this week, with Royal Bank of Scotland rounding the week off on Friday. HSBC will follow next week.

Smaller investment banking arms as well as less energy related exposure means UK banks may not be as badly hit, though Barclays indicated earlier this month its investment banking arm would not be as a high as last year.

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The effects of the market volatility were seen when Japanese broker Nomura earlier this month announced it was shuttering its European equities business at the cost of hundreds of UK jobs.

Brexit is also causing a degree of uncertainty to the sector, with HSBC threatening it could look into relocating away from London if the UK votes to leave in June at huge cost to the bank.

The potential loss of so-called passporting rights, allowing firms easier movement around Europe, in the event of a Brexit would be especially detrimental to the sector, according to a report by Woodford Investment Management.

Asian exposure and high leverage in the Chinese economy is expected to hit loan performance at HSBC and Standard Chartered, according to Laith Khalaf Hargreaves Lansdown senior analyst.

Barclays, Lloyds and RBS ramped up PPI provisions last year and are largely expected to avoid any further substantial PPI costs, though regulatory claims continue to be a drain on profits.