AS oxymorons go, “good credit crisis” is right up there with “classy strip club” and “luxury studio flat”. But compared to rivals, Barclays has emerged from the near meltdown of the financial sector in fine fettle. Over the last seven years, top line income has grown by a compound annual growth rate of 18 per cent to £35bn. It has avoided some of the toxic assets that have plagued rivals, while it luckily missed out in the race to snap up ABN Amro in October 2007, a deal that nearly proved fatal for erstwhile rival RBS (the idea of comparing the pair now is laughable). Even in its darkest hour, it refused to take a bailout from the government, suspecting – rightly – that there would be too many strings attached.
By far its biggest coup was the $1.85bn acquisition of Lehman Brothers’ American business, which has helped business boom at investment bank Barclays Capital (BarCap). This division, headed up by Bob Diamond, is set to be the star of the show when the bank reports first quarter numbers on Friday. Along with other investment banking peers, strong revenues at its fixed income division will have helped, as will a growing advisory business that is hell-bent on stealing market share from rivals.
Last year, pre-tax profit was £5.3bn, excluding the gain on the sale of asset manager Barclays Global investors. Consensus expectations are for that to rise to £6.4bn this year, with a large chunk of that – £2bn or so – coming from the traditionally strong first quarter.
Of course, uncertainty remains, especially while a benign interest rate environment is flattering profits and the regulatory outlook is gloomy. But with so many losers from the financial crisis, it is worth backing a winner.