A settlement would shred Fred Goodwin's RBS inquisition, if the (Jimmy) Choo doesn't fit and hedge funds' Co-op Bank move

Mark Kleinman
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Sir Fred Goodwin, Chief-Executive Office
Fred Goodwin had been due to take the stand in June (Source: Getty)

With each passing year, the City watchdog’s report on the collapse of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) reads less like an incisive history of Britain’s banking crash and more like a misguided exercise in self-exculpation.

One fact, above all, haunts the document: its failure to include the words ‘Goodwin’ and ‘Fred’. That has always felt like a laughable omission, but former shareholders were always able to console themselves with the knowledge that the former RBS chief would one day have to account for his actions in court.

That prospect hangs in the balance as RBS and the remaining 9,000 members of the investor action group negotiate a settlement of their battle over the bank’s ill-fated 2008 rights issue.

Read more: ­­Should we be clamouring to see Fred Goodwin in court over RBS' collapse?

The terms of the deal – 82p-a-share plus interest – are generous when compared to RBS’s payments to other claimants, but stingy in the context of the 200p rights issue price.

Some want to hold out for a trial, less concerned about the money than about seeing Goodwin in the witness box.

Nevertheless, the inclination of institutions and some individuals to call it a day is understandable; and those who wish to fight on will need to prove that they can fund their claim.

Read more: RBS shareholders split over settlement offer in rights issue lawsuit

The verdict on whether the trial proceeds will come next week. The wait for it throws into sharp focus thecontinuing absence of accountability emerging from the single largest taxpayer bailout of the banking crisis.

Other than a show-trial conducted by MPs lasting a few hours, neither Goodwin nor his chairman, Sir Tom McKillop, have given their account of what went wrong in the RBS boardroom.

The scale, and duration, of support required by RBS have long made this unacceptable.

Read more: Will Fred be shredded in court as investors take on RBS over rights issue?

It also sits uneasily with Theresa May’s pledge to make business more answerable to stakeholders – whether over executive pay or the abandonment of pension obligations. By comparison, the rescue of a bank with £45bn of public money warranted a full public inquiry.

The dogged effort of some of RBS’s private shareholders to deliver something similar has been admirable, but it should not be left to them. If re-elected, Mrs May should commit to ensuring that one way or another, the bosses of failing banks account for themselves in the full glare of the public spotlight.

If the Choo doesn’t fit

Like an item of discount fashion adorning a supermodel, companies with majority shareholders and stock markets don’t always make a good fit.

So it seems to have proved with Jimmy Choo, which passed through several generations of private equity ownership and may now be heading for another.

True, the shares now trade at a big premium to the 140p they listed at in 2014, but compared to some international peers, they have underperformed.

Read more: Jimmy Choo share price rises as shoe maker puts itself up for sale

And weeks after its controlling investor, JAB Holdings, put it up for sale (to get out of fashion in order to focus on coffee and food assets), another reminder comes striding along the catwalk of the lingering concerns of minority investors.

The Investment Association’s IVIS service has red-topped Jimmy Choo on account of its board composition (too few independent directors) ahead of next week’s annual meeting, according to a source who has seen the report.

ISS, another proxy voting adviser, is urging shareholders not to support the re-election of Peter Harf‎, Jimmy Choo’s chairman, on account of his role at the helm of its remuneration committee.

A stiletto showdown awaits.

Hedge funds’ Co-op move

Talks between the Co-op Bank, its bondholders and regulators may be at an early stage, but the denouement is already beginning to take shape.

Potential bidders for the company have dropped like flies, leaving the cards in the hands of the hedge funds which helped rescue it four years ago.

Read more: Hedge funds meet City watchdog to discuss Co-op Bank rescue deal

The bondholder committee has, I’m told, enlisted spinners from Portland, and in particular former Treasury press officer Matt Pollard, to argue its case.

Ultimately, it’s going to come down to the size of the cheque they need to write.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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