IT HAS been easy to become blasé about the scale of the red ink splashed across banks’ balance sheets since the financial crisis.
But while Lloyds Banking Group was rejoicing about the halt to the torrent of new payment protection insurance in its first-quarter results this week, there was another staggering figure to make investors weep.
It was this: to date, the disposal of its 632-strong branch network known as Project Verde has cost Lloyds an eye-popping £977m.
By the time it floats the business on the stock market, that is expected to rise to £1.3bn. Factor in the additional capital that regulators may force Lloyds to stuff Verde with as they fret about possible systems and other failures from the new standalone business, and it might end up even higher.
But will Lloyds be able to offload the not-so-verdant Verde at all?
I’ve been passed confidential information supplied to the Co-operative Group, which pulled out of a deal to buy the network last week, showing that Lloyds slashed its earnings projections for the business during their negotiations.
Having originally expected that Verde would make more than £300m in pre-tax profit in 2014 and nearly £400m in 2015, Lloyds informed the Co-op last June that it would actually lose £177m in those two years.
The bank’s projections were subsequently revised up again, and Lloyds has not steered the City away from a Deutsche Bank forecast that Verde could generate profits of £200m in the medium term.
Institutions being flogged this business on the stock market would be wise to exercise extreme caution.
With final approvals now secured for its combination with Xstrata shareholders are aware that securing a robust policeman for Ivan Glasenberg, the merged group’s chief executive, is the next priority.
Tony Hayward, who stepped down from BP after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 and who has a full-time job running Genel Energy, might seem an unlikely choice as Glencore casts around for a new chairman.
In some respects, however, Hayward is a logical pick. He already sits on the Glencore board, and has rebuilt his business career since the traumas of three years ago.
He is said to have been asked by some board colleagues to consider taking the chairmanship, although a Glencore spokesman disputes this.
Either way, there is history here. Two years ago, Lord Browne was hours away from being confirmed as the firm’s chairman before both sides got feet colder than a harsh Swiss winter.
There is, as I’ve written here before, a third ex-BP executive in the frame: Dick Olver, who will step down soon as chairman of BAE Systems. But would Olver be too independent for Glasenberg and co?
LOVEGROVE LINES UP CHEVRON POST
On the subject of those with a former connection to BP, I hear that one of its key advisers is about to pop up in an intriguing role at a major competitor.
City sources say that Martin Lovegrove, who left his post as the chairman of Citi’s global energy practice in December, is joining Chevron Corp as a special adviser to the senior management team.
The appointment of Lovegrove, who was instrumental in the reconstruction of BP’s balance sheet after the 2010 disaster, is a potential omen for some chunky dealmaking. A bid for BP is an unlikely prospect, but Lovegrove’s track record as the architect of some of the oil industry’s most significant deals speaks for itself.
Mark Kleinman is the City editor of Sky News @MarkKleinmanSky