Following on from the last (and first) blog on my new site where I quoted the Bank of England’s explanation of the ELA support for HBOS and RBS, I would like to clarify the Treasury’s position – or at least the version I received. As I mentioned, the first payment of the ELA to HBOS was given on 1st October 2008 and peaked at £25.4BN on 13th November 2008. Like the rest of the population, I had no idea about this huge sum but I did know the situation with HBOS was extremely precarious by Oct 2008 and, in my view, some of the money it had lost was as a result of dubious or even criminal conduct. So, on the 6th October 2008, I wrote to Gordon Brown giving him chapter and verse about what Paul and I had uncovered and explaining why we felt the merger would potentially be a disaster.
On 20th October 2008 I received a reply from No 10 thanking me for my letter and saying: “Mr Brown felt pleased that you were able to write to him about your concerns, a careful note has been made of your comments. He has asked me to send a copy of your letter to HM Treasury as he feels it is important that they are made aware of your concerns and can send you any comments they may have. Yours Sincerely.”
The comments they had were, in the circumstances, less than transparent and not once did they mention the odd £25.4BN. But they did clarify the merger between HBOS and Lloyds TSB was, according to HM Treasury, entirely down to the shareholders of both Banks and therefore, nothing to do with Lloyds, HBOS nor the Government. So don’t go bleating or suing the Bank – it was all down to you guys! Here’s an extract from my book explaining the Treasury’s point of view:
“Back to Gordon and I’m guessing, also with hindsight, Mr Brown wishes he had just ignored my letter instead of asking his office to reply. In total I received three letters from No 10 and three letters from the Treasury, who apparently didn’t have any concerns about HBOS or the merger. In fact they didn’t even seem to realise it had happened and the first reply we got from the Treasury, dated February 2009, made reference to the ‘proposed merger’ expected to take place in January 2009:
“Thank you for your recent letter regarding the merger between Lloyds TSB and Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS). We have received a large volume of enquiries in recent days and so are not able to provide a specific response to you at this time. I hope that the information below is helpful and answers the questions you raised.
The proposed merger between Lloyds TSB and HBOS was announced on 18th September. Both Lloyds TSB and HBOS shareholders have voted in favour, and it is expected to take effect during January 2009 subject to the approval of the Scottish courts. HBOS shareholders will receive 0.605 Lloyds TSB shares for every HBOS share. The decision on the merger between Lloyds TSB and HBOS was and remains a matter for shareholders.”
All things considered, it probably would have been better if the shareholders had reached their decisions retrospectively! Not least because responsibility for the merger seems to have been laid exclusively with them. On 16th March 2009, we received a second letter from the Treasury saying:
“Thank you for your letter of 6th October 2008 to Mr Gordon Brown on the merger between Lloyds TSB and Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS). I am replying as Minister responsible for this policy area. I am sorry for the delay in responding to you.
On Monday 13th October, in implementing the measures announced on 8th October, the Chancellor announced that the Government would be underwriting capital investments for Royal Bank of Scotland and, on successful merger, for HBOS and Lloyds TSB.
A proposed merger between Lloyds TSB and HBOS was announced on 18th September, and became effective on 16 January 2009 following shareholder and other approvals. The decision on the merger was a matter for the shareholders of both institutions. …”
On 15th May 09 we received a third letter from the Treasury which was basically a copy paste of the second letter – which was more or less a copy paste of the first letter but with corrected time scales. All three letters contained details of the HBOS recapitalisation – how much was being raised and from where. I’m not sure their explanations really clarified exactly how much money the Government was giving HBOS or Lloyds but, crucially, the letters failed to mention the small matter of the £25.4BN given to HBOS:
“On 19th November, Lloyds TSB shareholders voted in favour of its merger with HBOS and approved plans to raise £5.5 billion by issuing £4.5 billion of new ordinary shares and £1 billion of special preference shares. In relation to the newly issued ordinary shares, the shares were made available for acquisition by existing Lloyds TSB shareholders. To the extent that such shares were not acquired by existing shareholders (or other third parties) the Treasury has done so. The Treasury has also subscribed for £1 billion of preference shares
On 12 December 2008, HBOS shareholders voted in favour of the merger. In the case of HBOS, £8.5billion of newly issued ordinary shares were made available for acquisition by existing HBOS shareholders. Again, to the extent that such shares were not acquired by existing shareholders (or other third parties) the Treasury has done so. The Treasury has also subscribed to £3billion of newly issued preference shares in the capital of HBOS.
A range of conditions are attached to the recapitalisation package. Lloyds TSB and HBOS have agreed that over the next three years they will maintain the availability and active marketing of competitively priced lending to homeowners and to small businesses at 2007 levels. They will also provide support for schemes to help people struggling with mortgage payments to stay in their homes and the expansion of financial capability initiatives. The remuneration of senior executives will follow strict guidelines – both for 2008 (when the Government expects no cash bonuses to be paid to board members) and for remuneration policy going forward (where incentives schemes will be reviewed and linked to long-term value creation, taking account of risk, and restricting the potential for “rewards for failure”). The Government will also be consulted on the appointment of new independent non-executive directors…” [End of book excerpt]
Make what you will of that but what I make of it is: the shareholders of HBOS and Lloyds are responsible for the merger; the new Bank will, on instruction from the Government, be enormously supportive to home owners and SMEs; bonuses will not be paid to Board members and; I’m a China man. We didn’t know what we were handing to HBOS (or RBS) back then and, as it turns out, the terms and conditions of the bailouts were a lot less realistic or memorable than the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not posting this because I’m a Conservative supporter. I don’t think Mr Cameron has been any more supportive to the taxpayer in the case of Public v Banks than Gordon Brown. At the end of the day “it’s all about the money” and let’s face it we, the taxpayers, don’t have any, we gave it all to the banks. So whoever we vote for we shouldn’t really be surprised when, whatever party wins the election next year, politicians continue to vote for the banks.