Comment: Banks face uphill battle to regain trust

Martin Flanagan. Picture: Adrian Lourie
Martin Flanagan. Picture: Adrian Lourie
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THE European Union is on the brink of imposing billions of euros of fines on half a dozen banks that took part in what was effectively a cartel to rig two global interest rate benchmarks.

It is said Royal Bank of Scotland, Deutsche Bank and Societe Generale are set to cough up for traders who allegedly acted in collusion to manipulate the Euribor and Yen Libor, the rates at which banks lend to each other. Credit Agricole, HSBC and JP Morgan are reportedly haggling over terms. Privately, all banks involved will probably want closure on the issue which has dragged on for two years.

Particularly as the Libor scandal has been followed by the new cross-border regulatory probe into possible rigging of the foreign exchange trading markets.

Even staid old Lloyds, with no real forex trade business to speak of compared with more than two dozen of the biggest players, has volunteered to conduct its own internal review of its currency trading activities, and pass on any information to the regulators if anything untoward is unearthed.

Is it too much to hope for a lengthy period of ethical behaviour by the banks (Co-op Bank included)?

Wethersoons figures set a bar to aim at

MUCH has been said, and not just by Ed Miliband, about falling living standards in the economic recovery. And it is no coincidence that price-conscious high street operators like Aldi, Poundland and Primark have prospered while more established players such as Marks & Spencer and Tesco struggle.

But JD Wetherspoon’s upbeat first-quarter trading statement yesterday, following resilient annual profits disclosed in September, shows the stretched pubs sector also has operators still able to woo cash-strapped customers with lower prices.

The group, with its value proposition, saw same-floorspace sales rise 3.7 per cent in its latest quarter. Meanwhile, total sales up 7.6 per cent are testimony to its confidence in opening more outlets despite consumer caution.

Founder chairman Tim Martin and chief executive John Hutson plan to open up to another 50 pubs this year to add to its near-900 strong estate, the latter including more than 40 Scottish outlets. A key part of Wetherspoon’s trading resilience in recent years has been to get people through the door by having noticeably lower alcohol prices, mixed with longer opening hours allowing it to squarely take on the likes of Greggs, McDonalds, Subway etc in the high street food market.

Those lower prices come at a cost: profit margins at Wetherspoon’s fell 0.3 per cent to 8.3 per cent in the latest quarter.

They are far from being industry-leading returns.

But the group has never seemed margin-obsessed, nailing its colours more to pub estate enlargement and overall profitability levels. It has proved a robust formula at the bar.