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Activist investor Edward Bramson admits defeat in Barclays war


Activist investor Edward Bramson has admitted defeat in his three year campaign to unseat Barclays’ chief executive Jes Staley and force the lender to shrink its investment bank.

Sherborne Investors, the fund run by Mr Bramson, said on Friday that it had sold its entire 6 per cent stake in Barclays at an average price of 186p (€2.15), higher than the 73p the stock traded at a year ago, but less than the 200p when it first bought in during March, 2018. For most of that period, Sherborne was Barclays’ largest shareholder.

“The sector rotation which has lifted Barclays and most other bank stocks may well have further to go, although it is getting fairly late in the investment banking cycle,” Sherborne said in a statement.

Returns

“We think that the new investment will produce better returns and has a clearer prospect of our becoming engaged in an operating turnround,” it added, without identifying the target.

Mr Bramson’s opposition to Barclays’ strategy focused on its investment bank, which Mr Staley refused to retreat from despite years of subpar returns compared with the group’s retail and credit card units.

However, during the coronavirus pandemic revenue from the trading and dealmaking division at the bank surged amid choppy markets and a high demand for debt.

At the same time, earnings from the retail side plunged amid huge loan provisions and slowing consumer spending.

Mr Staley argued the developments vindicated his thesis that an investment bank was a good counterbalance to retail lending during a crisis.

Sherborne also argued that Mr Staley was not a fit person to run a major lender because of his historic relationship with late disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was a client of Staley’s when he was at JPMorgan Chase. Mr Bramson called the situation surrounding the chief executive “a destabilising. . . circus”.

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Chair Nigel Higgins continued to back Staley, but has started a search for his predecessor, the Financial Times has reported.

Board

As the pandemic erupted, Mr Bramson briefly paused his campaign, only to restart it again last August. He was heavily defeated in his attempt to secure a board seat in 2019 and failed to win much support for his views from other shareholders.

The secretive fund is based in Guernsey and Mr Bramson rarely gives interviews, preferring to communicate via letters to his investors.

“Business is not a science and so people of goodwill may, therefore, sometimes differ,” the statement from the fund added. “In that spirit, Sherborne Investors expresses its most sincere wish that things will turn out well for Barclays, its employees, and its investors.”

Barclays declined to comment. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021



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