Green Campaign Builds for RBS’s Capital To Be Used Productively

Green Campaign Builds for RBS’s Capital To Be Used ProductivelyBy Michael Burke

Campaigners have called for the Royal Bank of Scotland to be transformed into a Green Investment Bank to kick start a wave of investment in green technologies The supporting document suggests that it would create 50,000 new green jobs a year, boost the UK economy, reduce the UK’s carbon emissions and improve international competitiveness – whilst not increasing the budget deficit. The report was commissioned by pressure group PLATFORM and the anti-poverty campaigners, World Development Movement, who reject the premise that investment in a green economy should be scrapped due to public sector cuts.

By contrast, it has recently been reported that the coalition government may scrap plans to invest public money in a Green Investment Bank. Instead the government may rely on private capital to fund green projects such as wind farms, high-speed rail and electric cars.

Deborah Doane, director of the World Development Movement, said, ‘It would be completely irresponsible and short-sighted to scrap public investment in a low carbon economy. RBS is sitting on billions of pounds from the taxpayer which is going to finance dirty projects often linked to human rights abuses, instead of more productive ends. The money we’ve invested in RBS should be directed towards green investment. It’s a no-brainer: not only wouldn’t it cost the taxpayer directly, it would boost the economy and create new jobs in the UK at a much-needed time.’

The idea has received backing within parliament; one hundred and seven MPs signed an Early Day Motion which calls on the Government to use its majority share in RBS to prioritise climate change as a principal concern in RBS’s lending decisions.

Room To Invest

SEB has previously argued that RBS, 84% owned by taxpayers, has scope to increase its lending very substantially without endangering its solvency. Indeed, attempts to bolster RBS’s capital beyond those of its High St. rivals simply increase that spare lending capacity

The recent European-wide stress-testing of banks’ balance sheets was widely criticized as insufficiently robust. British banks had previously been put to a more severe test by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), which also published the results.

The key features of those are set out in the table below – it is calculated from the FSA data.

Table 1. FSA ‘Stress Test’ Results for British Banks

The FSA focuses on ‘Tier 1’ capital, mainly shareholders’ funds, as the main buffer against further crises. It projects what the ratio will be in 2011 assuming economic recovery, rising profits and weak lending growth. It also provided a stress test which included double-dip recession, a rise to 12.5% unemployment, a 60% fall in house prices and default by one or more European government. The FSA’s estimate of the impact of all those events combined for each bank is shown in the final column.

Here it is important to note that the banks actually have a huge and growing excess of capital over any prudent requirements, with RBS one of the most awash with the capital that is being hoarded. Previously, the FSA had required Tier 1 capital to amount to 4% of total assets. During the financial crisis in 2008 it altered the requirement so that total capital, Tiers 1 and2, must be 8% of assets . There has been some discussion that new international rules (‘Basle III’) will change the requirement so that Tier 1 capital must be 6% of assets.

Yet all the banks have spare capital way in excess of the expected 6% total. RBS currently has 14.4%. And even in a disastrous set of circumstances it would have nearly double the required international level. Paradoxically, it is the banks’ refusal to lend which is one of the key factors, along with government economic policy, increasing the risk of a double-dip recession and all its negative consequences. Furthermore, the ratios are based on ‘risk-weighted’ assets where values are already deflated by that adjustment for risk. RBS’s actual assets amounted £1,523bn at the end of 2009 .

Given the vast sums in the banks’ balance sheets, even fractional changes in the capital ratios through increased lending would release very large funds for investment. Currently, £100bn in new investment would only entail RBS’s Tier 1 capital ratio dropping to 13.5% from 14.4%. This could provide an enormous economic boost, kick-starting a Green transformation of the economy, creating new jobs, meeting the needs for housing, transport and infrastructure – and not a penny of new government borrowing.

Should RBS be used for the interests of the British economy or for private profit

Should RBS be used for the interests of the British economy or for private profit

By Michael Burke

RBS has announced it is selling off its insurance arm and getting rid of 2,600 jobs. This is not simply a personal disaster for those workers and the communities in which they live, but it also concerns all taxpayers. That state owns 84% of the bank.

The RBS share price was 44.5p at the end of last week, having been as high as 590p in March 2007. The low was 10.5p in January 2009.While no-one can predict where the share price will go it is clear that all financial assets remain close to fire-sale prices.

But the government is allowing an asset sale when assets can be bought extremely cheaply. There is no doubt too that RBS and other banks are viewed as risky propositions, but the sell-offs, which include branches in Britain and in the high-growth Indian market as well as the insurance businesses are the least risky part of the entire group.

These are effectively public assets which are being sold off cheaply to the private sector in order to boost its profitability. They will also have the simultaneous effect of increasing the public sector’s underlying deficit by reducing its cashflows. SEB has previously pointed out that the management of publicly-owned RBS was also attempting to replace low-interest debt government with higher interest private sector debt, in order to curry favour with financial markets. This is because they intend to be back in the private sector as soon as they can, again at a knock-down price against the interest of taxpayers. So far, they have been frustrated in their fund-raising aims but they are persisting. But the urgency is growing because RBS has moved back into profit. Operating profits were £713mn in Q1, compared to losses of £1.353bn in Q4, partly as bad debts declined .

The stated aim of the RBS bond issuance is to bolster its capital strength. But RBS’s capital strength, measured by its ratio of ‘core assets’ to total loans is currently 10.6%, much higher than both Lloyds and Barclays, which are below 9%. It is difficult to believe that RBS’s loan book is much worse than its rivals and it will face higher levels of default, given the disastrous merger of Lloyds with HBoS.

But so be it. Let RBS borrow more, even at higher interest rates than available from the government. But taxpayers should insist that its capital ratio does not need to be astronomically high, just a circumspect 9%, a little above Lloyds and Barclays. With current capital levels, that would mean RBS could fund a huge increase in productive investment.

RBS’s balance sheet is shrinking because it is refusing to lend and because of losses incurred in speculative investments. But it remains a colossal £1,583bn. Bringing down the capital ratio to 9.0% from 10.6% would release £280bn for productive investment. And with a 9.0% capital ratio, every further £10bn to bolster core capital would release another £100bn for investment. These sums would more than compensate for the entire fall in output during the recession.

RBS can be used for asset-stripping by the private sector and robbing taxpayers, who have poured £122bn into the banks to keep them afloat. Alternatively the public sector, which owns RBS, can use it to benefit the whole of society. The government could end the private investment strike in the British economy simply by instructing RBS to lend to infrastructure projects, transport, Green technologies and housing.