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Barclays Sets Aside £500m Over For-Ex Probe

Written By iwan Jundaedi on Jumat, 31 Oktober 2014 | 11.46

Barclays has confirmed a £500m provision for fines relating to allegations foreign exchange markets were manipulated by banks.

The London-listed lender announced the figure in its third-quarter results statement which also contained further costs associated with the historic payment protection insurance (PPI) mis-selling scandal.

It set aside an additional £170m for PPI but said it was also releasing a previous charge of £160m related to the sale of interest rate hedging products.

The group made a statutory profit before tax of £3.7bn over its first nine-months - a rise of 30.5% on the same period last year.

The performance was driven by stronger performances from its Personal and Corporate and separate Barclaycard arms, though investment bank profits tumbled 38% to £1.3bn as its group contribution continued to shrink under chief executive Antony Jenkins.

He said the results reflected further progress towards key goals under its Transform programme - aimed at making Barclays the "go-to" bank - and demonstrated greater resilience through its rebalancing from the "casino banking" days.

"In aggregate, this is a good performance from the group, our strategy is working, and we expect to see continued progress as we go forward," he added.

Sky News reported on Wednesday that Barclays, HSBC and RBS were poised to set aside roughly £1bn for settlements with regulators following probes into the abuse of critical foreign exchange benchmarks.

It is understood that settlements between UK banks and the Financial Conduct Authority could be announced as soon as next month.

The additional provision for costs associated with PPI means Barclays has now set aside more than £5bn.

Lloyds confirmed earlier this week its PPI bill had topped £11bn.

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RBS Leans Towards Naming EY As New Auditor

By Mark Kleinman, City Editor

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is leaning towards appointing the smallest of the big four accountancy firms as its new auditor, a move that would spell the end of its relationship with Fred Goodwin's erstwhile employer.

Sky News understands that RBS is closing in on an agreement to hand EY its lucrative audit mandate, although insiders insisted that a final decision had not yet been made and that a rival could yet emerge as the winner.

KPMG is also in contention for the role, and an announcement is not expected to be made alongside RBS's third-quarter results on Friday.

Sources confirmed that RBS, which is 80% owned by taxpayers, would set aside hundreds of millions of pounds to prepare for an impending penalty from regulators following their probe into misconduct relating to foreign currency benchmarks.

It will also allocate a substantial sum to other prospective litigation costs, the sources added.

Sky News revealed on Wednesday that Barclays, HSBC and RBS would collectively allocate around £1bn for foreign exchange settlements, with Barclays setting aside £500m.

RBS has worked with Deloitte since 2000, with their relationship coming under close scrutiny in the wake of the bank's £45.5bn taxpayer bail-out in 2008.

Mr Goodwin worked for Deloitte prior to his tenure at RBS, which culminated in the disastrous takeover of Dutch bank ABN Amro and his subsequent ousting by the Labour Government.

If it lands the audit role, EY will probably take it on after next year, a source said.

As well as its Government rescue, the period of Deloitte's audit work included the £12bn rights issue in 2008 that is now the subject of extensive shareholder litigation.

Under new rules aimed at promoting competition, major companies must rotate their auditors at least every 20 years, and conduct a tender process at least once a decade.

FTSE-100 audit mandates command multimillion pound fees for the Big Four auditors, which exert an iron grip on the sector.

RBS signalled in its annual report earlier this year that it intended to tender its audit contract for 2016 onwards.

RBS is not the only major UK bank reviewing its audit relationship, with Barclays undertaking its own review.

These audit changes have, however, fuelled criticism that the sector remains a closed shop which mid-tier challengers find it impossible to break into.

RBS declined to comment.

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Tesco Faces Criminal Probe Over Profits Crisis

Written By iwan Jundaedi on Kamis, 30 Oktober 2014 | 11.46

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has launched a formal criminal probe into Tesco's accounting crisis that led the UK's biggest retailer to overstate profits by £263m.

The news was confirmed by both the supermarket chain and SFO, hours after Sky News first revealed details of the investigation.

The company said: "Tesco confirms that it has been notified by the SFO that it has commenced an investigation into accounting practices at the company.

"Tesco has been co-operating fully with the SFO and will continue to do so.

"Tesco has been notified by the Financial Conduct Authority that, in light of the SFO investigation, its investigation will be discontinued."

Video: Tesco's Woes In Detail

The SFO probe, while not entirely unexpected, adds to the sense of crisis at Tesco.

The company, which has lost more than half its value during the last year, has been hit by unprecedented boardroom turmoil, with the chairman, Sir Richard Broadbent, planning to quit next year.

Eight executives, including UK managing director Chris Bush, have been asked to stand aside pending the outcome of investigations into the accounting mis-statement, which relate to payments from major suppliers.

Deloitte, the accountancy firm, and Freshfields, Tesco's legal adviser, undertook a preliminary probe, which was handed to the retailer's board last week.

That report has been handed to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), with which Tesco said earlier this month it is co-operating.

Dave Lewis, the new Tesco chief executive, last week unveiled a fall in half-year profits of more than 90% as the company battles to recapture market share lost to discounters such as Aldi and Lidl.

Tesco has also been deserted by some of its leading shareholders, including the US-based Harris Associates and Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, amid concern over its strategy and the state of its balance sheet.

The turmoil has forced Tesco to shore up its financial position by turning to five banks to lend the company £1bn each in order to head off the prospect of lenders calling in existing loans.

The Daily Telegraph reported on Wednesday that major consumer goods companies which supply Tesco have asked auditors to scrutinise their dealings with the retailer.

The SFO, which has powers to prosecute companies as well as individuals, has been pursuing high-profile cases against Barclays, GlaxoSmithKline and Rolls-Royce, among others.

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Federal Reserve Turns Off Quantitative Easing

By Sky News US Team

The US Federal Reserve has ended its stimulus programme known as quantitative easing after six years of pumping money into the economy to bolster growth.

The US central bank showed confidence that the nation's economic recovery would remain on track as it ended its monthly bond purchases.

It said the economy continues to grow at a "moderate" pace, while job-market conditions have improved "somewhat".

Quantitative easing had been steadily cut from $85bn (£53bn) to $15bn as the economy began to revive after the 2007-2009 recession.

The Fed's policy committee said in Wednesday's statement following a two-day meeting: "The Committee continues to see sufficient underlying strength in the broader economy to support ongoing progress toward maximum employment in a context of price stability."

It also signalled interest rates would remain low for a "considerable time" following the close of the programme this month.

Most economists expect the Fed to keep that rate on hold until mid-2015. 

The statement largely brushed aside the challenges posed by recent financial market volatility, faltering growth in Europe and a weak inflation outlook.

The Fed suggested that low inflation was not too much of a worry as longer-term expectations "remain stable".

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Sports Direct Settles Zero-Hours Legal Case

Written By iwan Jundaedi on Selasa, 28 Oktober 2014 | 11.46

Sports Direct is updating the terms of its zero-hours contracts for more than 20,000 staff after settling a case brought by a former employee who claimed to have suffered panic attacks.

According to law firm Leigh Day, the retailer controlled by Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley agreed to a number of legally-binding changes to its recruitment and policy practices for zero-hours workers.

The use of zero-hours contracts - recently investigated by the Government - is controversial because they offer no guaranteed hours of work, although supporters have argued they give workers greater flexibility.

Leigh Day said that the settlement with former worker Zahera Gabriel-Abraham meant Sports Direct was required to "expressly state that the roles do not guarantee work and produce clear written policies setting out what sick pay and paid holiday their zero hours staff are entitled to".

Elizabeth George, who represented Ms Gabriel-Abraham in her claim against Sports Direct for sex discrimination, unfair treatment and breach of holiday rights, said: "Sports Direct continue to deny any wrong doing or short-falls in their treatment of zero-hours workers but Zahera and many more of the company's zero-hours staff will tell you differently.

"Zero-hours workers are not second class workers. They have the right to be treated fairly and with respect.

"They have the right to take holidays and to be paid when they take them.  They have the right to statutory sick pay.  They have a right to request guaranteed hours. 

"Sports Direct will now have to make that crystal clear to staff."

Ms Gabriel-Abraham said: "I was told that if I took holidays, I wouldn't get holiday pay, and that if I was ill I wouldn't get sick pay.

"It made me feel trapped and helpless, but it's something that Sports Direct won't be allowed to get away with any more.

"Only time will tell whether Sports Direct are really dedicated to improving how it treats its workers. This is a good result for Sports Direct employees, but the fight isn't over yet."

Sports Direct said: "Sports Direct confirms that we have reached a settlement with Ms Gabriel-Abraham.

"The settlement is without any admission of any liability on the part of Sports Direct whatsoever.

"It was clear from the proceedings that we and Ms Gabriel-Abraham felt equally strongly about our respective positions and that each had different perceptions of the events that took place.

"The company will continue the process of reviewing, updating and improving our core employment documents and procedures across our entire business beyond its existing compliant framework."

The Government is considering a ban on exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts, which has been called for by unions.

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Major Banks To Top Up PPI Bill To Over £22bn

By Mark Kleinman, City Editor

Britain's five biggest banks are poised to take their aggregate bill for mis-selling payment protection insurance (PPI) past £22bn, underlining its status as the most costly scandal in the industry's history.

Sky News has learnt that Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) will all use their quarterly results statements during the next week to top up PPI compensation provisions.

Insiders said that the cumulative top-up for the five biggest UK lenders would be well over £1bn, to add to almost exactly £21bn already set aside for the scandal.

Claims orchestrated by claims management companies continued to pour in between July and September, scuppering banks' hopes that the pace of complaints would abate substantially during the second half of 2014.

Lloyds, which will be the first of the major UK banks to report third-quarter results on Tuesday, had by far the biggest share of the PPI policy market, and has so far allocated £10.425bn for compensation.

Barclays has set aside £4.85bn, and is said by analysts to be planning a smaller top-up charge later this week; RBS has provided just over £3.2bn; HSBC's bill has reached £2.1bn; and Santander has taken a £900m hit over the issue.

The sizeable new top-ups may revive calls for a so-called time-barring exercise, which would involve imposing a cut-off point for consumers to submit compensation claims.

The fact that a further £1bn or more is being set aside may surprise some bank shareholders, who have been told for more than a year by senior bankers that the tide of PPI claims should start to slow.

The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) said earlier this year that it had seen a substantial fall in new complaints, receiving just under 57,000 PPI-related complaints in the second quarter of the year, compared with just over 132,000 in the same period in 2013.

The latest wave of claims has concerned banks because many date back to before 2005, which was the reference point for an unsuccessful judicial review brought by the major banks just over three years ago.

Executives at major banks argue that the cost of administering even fraudulent or otherwise invalid claims can reach £1,000 each, eroding their capital at a time when they are facing political demands to lend more money to small businesses.

Banks are obliged to keep customer records for seven years, meaning that many new claims relate to policies for which neither banks nor customers have an accurate record.

The British Bankers' Association (BBA) had been leading tentative discussions with the City regulator about a cut-off point for claims.

Martin Wheatley, the Financial Conduct Authority's chief executive, told MPs earlier this year that he was sceptical about the prospects of a time-barring exercise.

The banks declined to comment on new PPI provisions.

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British Banks 'Can Survive Another Recession'

Written By iwan Jundaedi on Senin, 27 Oktober 2014 | 11.46

Four British banks have passed a stress test to determine if they would be able to survive an economic crisis comparable to the one seen in 2008.

The Royal Bank of Scotland - 80% owned by the UK Government - satisfied the health check set by the European Banking Authority.

Lloyds Banking Group, which is 25% owned by taxpayers, narrowly met the requirements, which were designed to ensure that financial institutions will remain resilient in the event of another downturn.

However, the results of a more detailed stress test on British brands, performed by the Bank of England, are only expected on 16 December.

These initial findings could prove problematic for Lloyds, which is hoping to resume dividend payments to shareholders.

But in a statement, the group said: "Our strong position reflects the steps taken by the group's management over the last three years to return its balance sheet to a robust position, and we will continue to use this strong basis to help Britain prosper."

On Saturday, our City Editor, Mark Kleinman, revealed that Lloyds is planning to close more than 200 branches, placing 9,000 jobs at risk.

Meanwhile, a detailed report by the European Central Bank - which excluded British firms - has revealed that 25 banks are in poor financial health, and that 13 of those desperately need to strengthen their buffers against losses.

This means that one in five Eurozone banks may be unable to survive another major economic crisis.

Video: British Bank Stress Tests Explained

If the failing companies are unable to raise more cash in the next nine months, they could be forced to shut down. The financial institutions affected are mainly based in Italy, Greece and Cyprus.

It is hoped that the in-depth review, which covered 130 of the biggest European banks, will help to identify potential vulnerabilities in the banking system, give companies better access to credit, and strengthen the bloc's economy.

The ECB, which is based in Frankfurt, is set to become Europe's central banking supervisor on 4 November. It organised the test so it would become aware of any weaknesses before it gained regulatory powers.

One of the organisation's main tasks is to help small and medium-sized companies across Europe find it easier to get accepted for credit from their bank of choice, enabling them to expand and stay in business.

A lack of available credit has been blamed on the Eurozone's stagnation - with the group of 18 nations using the euro showing no growth whatsoever between April and June.

"This review of the largest banks' positions will boost public confidence in the banking sector," said Vitor Constancio, the vice president of the ECB. "It will help repair balance sheets and make the banks more resilient and robust."

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Over Five Million Britons In Low-Paid Jobs

A record five million UK workers are now in low-paid jobs, according to a new report.

The Resolution Foundation think-tank said the number of people earning less than £7.69 an hour increased by 250,000 last year to reach 5.2 million.

The increase partly reflected growth in employment, but there was also a reverse in the previous year's slight fall in low-paid work.

Workers in Britain are more likely to be low paid than those in comparable economies such as Germany and Australia, said the Resolution Foundation.

The think-tank's chief economist, Matthew Whittaker, said: "While recent months have brought much welcome news on the number of people moving into employment, the squeeze on real earnings continues. While low pay is likely to be better than no pay at all, it's troubling that the number of low-paid workers across Britain reached a record high last year.

Video: Cameron On Employment

"Being low paid - and getting stuck there for years on end - creates not only immediate financial pressures, but can permanently affect people's career prospects.

"A growing rump of low-paid jobs also presents a financial headache for the Government because it fails to boost the tax take and raises the benefits bill for working people."

He added: "All political parties have expressed an ambition to tackle low pay. Yet the proportion of low-paid workers has barely moved in the last 20 years.

Video: Survey: Scottish Job Growth Slowing

"A focus on raising the minimum wage can certainly help the very lowest paid workers in Britain, but we need a broader low-pay strategy in order to lift larger numbers out of working poverty.

"Economic growth alone won't solve our low-pay problem. We need to look more closely at the kind of jobs being created, the industries that are growing and the ability of people to move from one job or sector to the other, if we're really going to get to grips with low pay in Britain today."

Video: Angry Exchanges Over Job Creation

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Lloyds Bank: More Than 200 Branches To Close

Written By iwan Jundaedi on Minggu, 26 Oktober 2014 | 11.46

By Mark Kleinman, City Editor

Britain's biggest retail bank will set out plans next week to close more than 200 branches under a blueprint that will also see 9,000 jobs disappear.

Sky News understands that Lloyds Banking Group will say that a significant minority of its 2,250 branches across the UK will be shut by the end of 2017, ending a three-year moratorium on such closures.

The focus of the axe will be on urban centres where there are already multiple branches under Lloyds' individual brands operating in close proximity, according to one source.

Lloyds has roughly 1,300 branches under its own name, 670 as Halifax and 290 using the Bank of Scotland brand.

While the issue of bank branch closures is a sensitive one, Lloyds hopes that it will escape widespread criticism because its plans will not, for example, leave rural communities without access to their existing nearest branch.

Lloyds has already offloaded more than 630 branches as part of a state aid settlement with Brussels which resulted in TSB being spun out as an independent high street bank.

Adding a further 200 to that figure would mean that approximately 30% of the group's branches would have been offloaded or closed since the merger of Lloyds TSB and HBOS during the 2008 financial crisis.

Insiders said that Lloyds, which is 25%-owned by taxpayers, would also open some new branches during the next three years, with the exact net closures figure unclear this weekend.

The group would continue to operate the UK's largest branch network even after the plans are implemented, the source added.

People close to the situation pointed out that Lloyds was trying to be transparent by outlining a formal branch closures number, while some rival banks had been closing small numbers of branches on a regular basis but without making public announcements about their actions.

The plans, which will be presented to the City by Antonio Horta-Osorio, Lloyds' chief executive, will demonstrate the bank's vision for automating its customer-facing operations during a period when digital banking is forecast to continue its explosive growth rate.

Sky News revealed during the week that the revised strategy would trigger around 9,000 job losses.

Earlier this year, the British Bankers' Association (BBA) published research showing that UK-based customers conducted almost 40 million mobile and internet banking transactions each week in 2013, a huge increase on the previous year.

The job cuts at Lloyds, which employs roughly 80,000 people, will be on a smaller scale than the cull which has taken place since the merger of Lloyds TSB and HBOS.

Since then, tens of thousands of jobs have been axed at the combined group, and at rivals including Barclays, HSBC and the state-backed Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

It was unclear on Wednesday how many of the 9,000 roles affected would be in branches and how many in support roles at, for example, call centres.

The strategy update, which will be unveiled alongside results for the third quarter of 2014, is unlikely to include details of a return to the dividend list, with Lloyds expected to have to wait for the outcome of a Bank of England stress test in mid-December.

A spokesman for Lloyds declined to comment.

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Lords Consider Drone Laws Over Privacy Fears

By Tom Cheshire, Technology Correspondent

A House of Lords committee will hear from drone safety experts on Monday about whether legislation needs updating.

The committee is investigating the civil use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and is expected to report its findings in 2015.

The popularity of drones has surged as the technology has improved, leading to a consumer boom in cheaper, simpler models.

Among the questions the committee will seek answers to are the implications of drones for air traffic control, and whether drones will be affected by current data protection legislation.

Earlier this week, a report led by the former head of GCHQ and conducted by the University of Birmingham's Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security said that UAVs pose "significant safety, security and privacy concerns".

Video: Debate Over Paparazzi Tactics

It warned they could also be exploited by burglars, train robbers, poachers and the paparazzi.

But the report also said drones could bring "significant benefits". The commercial drone market is estimated to be worth £7.5bn over the next decade.

Jennifer Gibson, a legal expert on UAVs, told Sky News: "Parliament needs to step up. They need to make sure that outdated laws - which historically were used for things like CCTV cameras or manned aircraft - are updated to address this unmanned threat that is coming and can be used by the average person on the street, or by police forces.

Video: Dubai To Get Drone Deliveries

"There need to be codes of conduct, we need to have discussions about what privacy means in this new world where you can fly something up to someone's window.

"We need to have decisions around how to protect ourselves from the potential use of this in a threatening way."

This week also saw the first UAV conference held in London.

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