Arguments about the merits of Barclays’ voyage into investment banking feel almost as old as the industry itself.
Next week’s showdown between the lender’s board and Edward Bramson, who wants to muscle his way onto it, might prove to be a mere footnote in that story – or, ultimately, warrant a full chapter.
Bramson will lose the vote at Barclays’ AGM, but yesterday’s first-quarter results underline why he started this fight.
The performance of its trading operations was underwhelming, despite chief executive Jes Staley’s natural focus on having outperformed his US peers.
Returns from Barclays’ investment bank continue to be unacceptable, while the refusal to provide fuller revenue guidance helps explain why the shares initially fell yesterday.
Yet Barclays has played its hand smartly during the AGM build-up, signalling bonus cuts and other measures aimed at exerting a tighter grip on costs.
That has neutralised some of Bramson’s ammunition. Jupiter Asset Management and Columbia Threadneedle are leaning towards supporting him, I’m told, although a spokeswoman for the latter insisted earlier this week that it had yet to make up its mind.
Even in the event of victory next week, though, Barclays should not interpret a rejection of Bramson’s boardroom bid as a tacit endorsement of the status quo. This fight still has a long way to run.
Booking the cooks
Don’t just book it, Thomas Cook it. In unfortunate news for the venerable tour operator, too few Britons have been taking the advice of its former advertising slogan literally in recent times.
In many respects, the company is a victim of the same consumer trends plaguing retailers of all kinds: consumers who no longer need to visit expensive-to-maintain high street outlets and shop around online for a product where barriers to entry are easily surmountable.
Thomas Cook is that, and more. Less than a decade after a £1.6bn financial rescue, the company is in fresh need of a restorative tonic.
There’s little danger of an imminent collapse, having come through the most challenging part of the fiscal calendar. Soft summer bookings amid continuing Brexit uncertainty are proving far from helpful.
A strategic review – or sale – process for its airline has been underway for two months, and it is neither surprising nor suspicious that that has yielded interest in Thomas Cook’s tour operating business.
The prime candidate to buy it must be Fosun, the Club Med owner which already holds close to 20 per cent of the British company’s shares.
Others have stepped forward, too, including a number of undisclosed trade bidders.
A deal won’t be straightforward, though. Breaking up the company might crystallise a big pension deficit in the tour operating business, while a long-term deal between the two sides of the group would need to be struck swiftly.
There’s also the need to keep payment providers, regulators and other stakeholders happy during what’s likely to be a sticky few months of trading.
A further capital-raising remains a strong possibility, regardless of bidders’ hopes of whisking Thomas Cook away to sunnier financial climes.
Premier League injury time
It isn’t only on the pitch that the race to finish top of the Premier League is going into injury time.
In the boardroom of the world’s richest domestic football competition, the search for a successor to Richard Scudamore goes on.
It’s now nearly eleven months since Scudamore announced he would step down, and four months since his anointed replacement – Discovery executive Susanna Dinnage – decided she didn’t want the job after all.
There has been plenty of head-scratching in top-flight club boardrooms and the wider sporting arena about why such a prestigious job is taking such a long time to fill.
Bosses have now been told that a new chief executive is likely to be announced at the Premier League’s annual meeting in June. One name that definitely won’t be unveiled is Tom Betts, an ITV executive who was on the original shortlist and who was then approached again in January.
I understand he notified Spencer Stuart, the headhunter conducting the search, that he was withdrawing from the process a couple of weeks ago.
Attention appears to have been focused on the other side of the Atlantic, although the Premier League job’s salary might be an obstacle to recruiting a US-based executive.
Curiously absent from the speculation has been Richard Masters, the acting chief who is broadly regarded to have done a decent job in recent months. Overlooking him could lead to a transfer request being slapped in – a possible own goal that Scudamore’s successor could do without.