U.K. Banks Scrap Dividends, Buybacks After Regulator Push

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. banks, including HSBC Holdings Plc, agreed to scrap dividends and buybacks this year after the regulator pushed to contain spending to shareholders as the coronavirus pandemic upends the industry.

HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, Standard Chartered Plc, Barclays Plc and Lloyds Banking Group Plc axed their outstanding 2019 dividends and said there would be no payments in 2020 in similar announcements late Tuesday. They also agreed to suspend any buybacks.

HSBC, while saying performance has been “resilient” in the first quarter, warned the virus would be a drag on revenue and increase expected loan losses at the start of the year.

The moves come after Prudential Regulation Authority wrote to lenders asking them to cancel payments, adding that it “expects banks not to pay any cash bonuses to senior staff, including all material risk takers.” The company statements didn’t mention bonuses.

The U.K.’s five biggest banks had planned to pay out 7.5 billion pounds ($9.3 billion) in dividends over the next two months. Barclays was due to pay more than 1 billion pounds on Friday.

“While we do understand the social rationale behind these steps, this regulatory intervention risks leading to further underperformance by U.K. banks in the near-term, relative to both U.K. insurers and global banks,” Citigroup analysts wrote in a note.

Some executives had declared British banks ready for a shock after preparing for the turbulent process of Brexit. However, regulators across Europe have urged restraint on dividends, prompting several banks in the region to suspend payments on 2019 earnings this week, as the pandemic wreaks havoc on markets and undermines loan forecasts.

Central banks have offered huge support packages to ensure institutions continue to lend through the crisis, including relief on some capital buffers and more time to tackle soured loans.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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