Should You Buy Barclays Today?


LONDON -- The attempts of British banking giant Barclays' to repair its battered reputation took another body blow this week. The bank announced that it was making a bumper bonus payment of 38.5 million pounds to its top bankers, including 17.6 million pounds to investment banking head Rich Ricci.

Barclays has endured a terrible time over the past year, including a 290-million pound fine for its part in the LIBOR rigging scandal, prompting a radical overhaul of its corporate culture, and forcing the resignation of chairman Marcus Agius and CEO Bob Diamond. But I believe that the company is gradually putting its past troubles behind it.

A bubbly start to 2013
Barclays announced in its results last month that the company had made a promising start to the current year. And, although ongoing travails in developed markets -- particularly in light of fresh turbulence in the eurozone -- could cause fresh share price turbulence, I reckon that the bank's current growth strategy should deliver strong long-term expansion.

The company has seen U.K. retail business pick up in recent months, with deposits, loans, and mortgages all steadily ticking higher, and the bank is implementing new customer service targets to attract fresh business. Elsewhere, planned restructuring of its African operations and new product introductions should underpin rocketing returns from these regions.

And its Barclaycard division is also set to drive higher across the globe -- the number of customers here leapt to 28.8 million in 2012, from 22.6 million the previous year, the company noted in February, pushing adjusted pre-tax profit 25% higher, to 1.5 billion pounds.

Cost-cutting initiatives set to accelerate
The bank is also set to deliver significant cost savings in the coming years, following the 3% dip in adjusted operating expenses, to 18.5 billion pounds last year. The firm has spent 500 million pounds on
"restructuring" during the first quarter of 2013, with cost-saving work set to pick up pace as the year progresses.

And at its Barcap division -- responsible for more than half of estimated group pre-tax profit this year -- the cost:net operating income ratio dropped to 64% in 2012, from 72% the previous year, and is forecast by Investec to slip below 55% by 2015.

Earnings growth primed to take off
City forecasts expect earnings per share to rise 6% this year, to 37 pence, before marching 20% higher in 2014, to 44 pence.

The bank currently trades on a prospective P/E ratio of 8.1, providing a chunky discount to a reading of 13 for the wider banking sector, and which is expected to dive to 6.7 in 2014. I consider this to represent true value for money given Barclays' succulent growth drivers.

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