Levene waits for Lloyds sale

PLANS to sell off more Lloyds Bank branches than the 600 already agreed could cause unhelpful delays to the launch of new banks, Lord Levene told City A.M. yesterday.

Levene, who chairs new high street bank NBNK, said it would be “very keen” to bid for a bigger package of Lloyds assets if they were sold as mooted by the Independent Commission on Banking (ICB).

But he said he hoped renegotiation of the disposal “doesn’t hold things up” as any delay to forming a new retail bank to challenge the dominance of the current market leaders “would be a pity”.

ICB chairman Sir John Vickers on Monday called for a substantial increase in Lloyds’ disposals to enable the buyer to become a serious challenger to the major banks.

“I don’t want this to end up in endless discussion. We were ready to get on with making our bid and if we succeeded the UK would end up with another retail bank. If this slows that process down it would be a pity,” Levene said. “Lloyds has been working very assiduously on this but if the structure of the disposal changes materially they may have to in effect start again,” he added. “Anything that delays that process isn’t helpful.”

Credit rating agencies said the ICB’s plans may affect UK banks’ ratings.

Moody’s said creditors to Barclays, RBS and HSBC may suffer from the plan to ringfence retail banks, while changing Lloyds’ sale of branches could negatively affect the bank. Fitch said it believed the plan to protect bank depositors was the first time such a legal preference over other debtholders had been proposed.

Standard & Poor’s analysts were sceptical as to whether the competition measures would have any effect.