Ed Bramson is in a pickle.
The activist investor who looks like the suave doctor in a daytime TV soap — he could fall back on that when this corporate raiding lark fails him — wants to shake up Barclays. He wants to put an end to its ambitions to be the one last proper UK investment bank.
At next week’s annual general meeting Bramson will try to force his way on to the board to push through his plan to downsize Barclays’ Wall Street ambitions, as if that were the solution to its woes.
The interesting thing to look at will be how many investors in Bramson’s own vehicle — Sherborne — vote against him.
They might note that while returns from Barclays’ investment bank aren’t stellar, they are at least better than nearly all rivals, including the bulge bracket US banks that Barclays is making a more than decent fist of competing against.
One issue counter intuitively in favour of Barclays’ management, just for now, is that the shares are well under Bramson’s 190p buy-in price.
So far, and it’s already been quite a long campaign, his efforts to get the shares moving have totally failed. He looks like the tin of chutney at the back of the fridge that you keep meaning to throw away.
Barclays is much more than just a vehicle for already rich men to get richer. It’s an important part of the UK High Street and of corporate Britain. Businesses employing hundreds of thousands of people rely on it.
Bramson’s unhelpful comparison of Barclays to Deutsche suggests confusion on his part.
Deutsche really is a mess as today’s collapsed merger talks with Commerzbank show. If Bramson thinks Barclays, which is in better shape than it has been for years, is as rocky as the German giant he shouldn’t have invested in the first place.
So how about this for a turn of justice: Bramson gets laughed out of next week’s AGM, shareholders throwing metaphorical tomatoes at a hairdo that looks too good to be true.
He gives up, sells the shares, and faces a rebellion from his own investors who decide they want to shove him off his own board.
Free from his pettifogging interference, a revitalised Barclays gets on with the business of being the global British champion we need it to be. The shares double. It could happen.
Is the AA refusing to count its losses?
The other week AA chief executive Simon Breakwell spoke on a very bullish webcast reassuring investors the AA had not lost any major B2B contracts. The AA, he bragged, is “one of the country’s most trusted brands”.
A few days later the RAC announced that it had won SPA (Citroën, Peugeot, Vauxhall). These were, erm, major AA clients.
This loss presumably did not happen overnight, and indeed on Vauxhall’s website last week the RAC was announced as Vauxhall’s supplier. So it’s a bit hard to see how the AA can claim it did not know about losing the contracts when Breakwell made his webcast.
At 01.30 mins in he says: “Pleased to announce that all of our major B2B partners renewed…” and at 03.20: “We have successfully renewed all of our major B2B contracts.”
A tad misleading, perhaps. In reply, the AA says: “The AA successfully renewed or retained all its key B2B contracts in FY19 including Lloyds, Ford and Volkswagen Group. Our focus is on forming partnerships with OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] where they make strategic and commercial sense.”
A lonely crusade on executive pay
My favourite reverse indicator for what is going to happen to executive pay has always been The Guardian.
An important and admirable newspaper in so many ways, this seems to be one of those issues where it reports what it thinks should happen, rather than what is actually happening.
At a rough guess, I’d say it has written at least 200 times in the past 10 years that a clampdown on runaway executive pay is finally swinging into action.
During this period, executive pay has soared to ever more absurd levels.
I thought the paper had given up, but yesterday it was back: “Ballooning executive pay is as last coming under scrutiny” read the headline.
Public outrage is rising. And the — inevitable — High Pay Centre says folk think the system is rigged. A Labour MP says it is time for reform.
They’ll be right one day, I guess, maybe.