Ah, the 2013 results from Lloyds Banking Group. How much did it make? Well, the “underlying” profit was £6.2bn, but “legacy items” eat half that, while “simplification (sic) and Verde costs” knock off a further £1.5bn. After “volatile items” and tax, Lloyds lost money.

If that’s not clear, try the 88-page announcement, which includes such gems as the asset quality ratio (down) and the return on risk-weighted assets (up). This information overload looms over the forthcoming sale of the state’s 33 per cent holding, as it seeks to attract the masses. The prospectus for the offer will be almost universally unread.

Last September’s placing was to institutions, who could at least pretend to understand what they were buying. Selling shares to Sid is much harder. Lloyds is not another Royal Mail, but millions of novice shareholders might mistake it for a second opportunity to make easy money.

Unfortunately, the easy money has already been made. The shares have nearly doubled in a year, and no longer look cheap. Modern banking is beyond comprehension, so the key indicator here is the dividend. It’s the only number that can’t be fiddled, and provides the best clue to the management’s real view.

Lloyds expects to restart paying next year, with the long-term objective of distributing at least half the earnings. Considering the desperate thirst for capital over the last five years, this seems almost profligate, but Liberum’s brave analyst, Cormac Leach, thinks Lloyds will pay out two-thirds of its profits. On his forecast, that implies 5.3p a share for 2015, or a yield of over 6.5 per cent at 80p..

Such projections are music to a cash-strapped government with an election to win. Lloyds shares will be priced as cheaply as possible without infuriating the Public Accounts Committee, and marketed as a safe income-producing investment in a zero-interest world.

That may sound appetising, but it’s a harder sell than it looks. Public revulsion against bankers’ behaviour is undimmed, since the general view is that they’ve got away with financial murder, and are still at it. Last week saw Barclays paying out 40 per cent of  2012’s £5.8bn capital raise in one year’s bonuses. Antony Jenkins, the chief executive, trotted out the usual guff about needing to keep the investment banking talent. This is pitiful, particularly when the less risky parts of the business, like Barclaycard, are making the profits.

George Osborne will be hoping that we don’t notice, that greed will triumph over revulsion, and that we’ll be grateful for being bribed with our own money. On past form, he’s probably right.

A drug on the market

Cheer up, we’re richer than we thought. Not by much, it’s true, and not the sort of riches to make you feel better, but the UK’s GDP will increase by about £10bn, as the statistics are adjusted to include the economic value of prostitution and drug dealing.

Measuring these activities requires diligent research and fact-finding missions or, more likely, guesswork, but they’re going into the numbers anyway, thanks to a diktat from Brussels. Curiously, this is really quite sensible. Anything that is legal in one member state is to be included for all, and prostitution and drug-taking are both legal in Holland.

Adding these activities allows a fairer distribution of the goodies the European Union recycles from its taxpayers, although there are limits. The transaction must be between consenting adults, thus ruling out the burglary trade. Money-laundering is illegal throughout the EU, and so escapes. Fraud does too, although a guess at its extent would pretty up the published GDP of some EU member countries – as would a grasp on its extent within the EU’s own cash-dispensing machine.

Carney get it right this time?

The governor of the Bank of England expects interest rates to flat-line until, oh, ages yet, say after the general election. This is despite his new forecast of 3.4 per cent growth, a pace which has always spelled trouble in the past. You’d think that Mr Carney had been appointed by a chancellor desperate for re-election. Mind you, previous BoE forecasts have been so poor that Mr Osborne should be worried rather than reassured.

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