Royal Bank of Scotland swings to a loss in second quarter

LONDON – Royal Bank of Scotland swung to a loss in the second quarter of 2016 as it set aside more cash to cover litigation and conduct issues as it cleans up the problems that led to a taxpayer-funded bailout at the height of the global financial crisis.

The now government-controlled bank on Friday reported a pretax operating loss of 695 million pounds ($913 million) compared with a profit of 224 million pounds in the same quarter a year earlier. It posted a net loss of 1.08 billion pounds compared with a year-earlier profit of 280 million pounds.

RBS took charges of 1.28 billion pounds to cover costs related to the miss-selling of payment protection insurance, investor litigation surrounding a 2008 share sale and an inquiry into mortgages whose interest rates track other indicators such as the inflation rate.

Shares in the bank fell 7.8 per cent to 177 pence in afternoon trading in London.

“Our focus is on drawing a line under many of the legacy issues that have plagued this bank, and transforming the core business so we can deliver consistent, sustainable profits and results for our shareholders,” CEO Ross McEwan said in a statement.

RBS said restructuring costs would “remain high” this year, totalling more than 1 billion pounds in 2016. The second-quarter restructuring charge was 392 million pounds, down from 1.02 billion a year earlier.

The results come a day after the Bank of England approved a package of stimulus measures to bolster an economy shocked by the public vote to leave the 28-nation European Union.

The central bank made borrowing easier and cheaper, by cutting its key rate to 0.25 per cent from a previous record low of 0.5 per cent and agreeing to pump an additional 60 billion pounds of new money into the economy through the purchase of government bonds together. It also plans to buy up 10 billion pounds of corporate bonds to make it easier for companies to borrow.

“The outcome of the U.K.’s EU Referendum has created considerable uncertainty in our core market and we continue to assess all its implications. In the current low rate and low growth environment, achieving our longer term cost-income ratio and return targets by 2019 is likely to be more challenging,” McEwan said.

The CEO told reporters that among the confidence-building measures, he welcomed the Bank of England chief’s rejection of the possibility of negative interest rates. Such rates have been tried in Japan and Europe, often producing unintended consequences such as extra costs for banks.

While RBS was taking note of economic uncertainty, McEwan said, customers have yet to demonstrate concerns.

“I think people are taking this in their stride. We didn’t see any change in their spending habits,” he said. “I think people are saying: Let’s stay calm on this.”

RBS also ditched plans to spin off the Williams & Glyn branch network as a standalone bank because of concerns over its long-term viability. However, RBS remains committed to selling Williams & Glyn by the end of next year.