DESPITE Barclays having avoided a taxpayer bailout, there’s plenty of fodder for populist banker-bashing in its third-quarter results. Pre-tax profits were down 76 per cent and £1.6bn has been set aside for bonuses.

These headline figures ignore the impact of mark-to-market fluctuations in value and the fact that investment bank staff numbers are up 2,000. Even discounting mark-to-market effects, pre-tax profits fell 28 per cent to £1.27bn, with BarCap and the retail business in western Europe the main drags. Investment banks in general have been struggling and Barclays’ exposure to the Spanish economy has not helped matters.

So it’s no surprise that outgoing CEO John Varley was keen to emphasise the bank’s more friendly sounding activities: lending to UK households and businesses was up 30 per cent on last year to £35bn.

But more important for investors will be the positive news on impairments, which are falling at a faster rate than at the bank’s peers. While Lloyds recorded a slowdown in its progress on impairments, Barclays is exceeding expectations.

The bank has even revised its 2010 guidance, which told investors to expect a 15-20 per cent drop in impairments, up to 30 per cent. And the improvement is across the board: nine-month retail impairments dropped 14 per cent while wholesale impairments fell 37 per cent. This reflects the bank’s limited exposure to the shaky mortgage market, which can only be a positive in comparison to other high-street lenders.

The good news has been priced in for now, but it makes Barclays well-placed to outperform its peers.