RBS, the bank that has been almost entirely bad news for the last five years, has now delivered some good news – a return to profitability that looks solid enough for realistic speculation about when the four-fifths of its equity owned by the government will be sold to the private sector.
That point is still about four years away, for while the bank seems to be out of its red ink bath, it has still not dispelled the clouds of litigation that hang over it nor has it yet escaped all regulatory inquiry into possible misdeeds during the years of excess before the crash.
Still, the half year of profits that have been reported are better than expected. Particularly encouraging is that provision against bad loans was less than feared, though that is more due to faster recovery in the wider economy than anything the bank has done.
Nevertheless, good progress seems to have been made across a wide front. Even the deeply troubled Ulster Bank subsidiary, weighed down with the millstone of duff loans in the Irish property market, made a modest profit in the first three months of 2014.
It is hard to disagree with chief executive Ross McEwan that RBS is now fundamentally stronger and looking much more capable of delivering good service to customers and decent results for shareholders.
But he is also right that the road ahead is not entirely smooth. Regulators and courts may yet take big bites out of its earnings. And while its customers may have confidence in an improving economy, their confidence in their bank is unlikely to be fully restored. Nevertheless, yesterday’s profits news is still worth a cheer.