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European banks old errors to blame for Barclays' Africa exit, says South Africa Finance minister

A Barclays Bank branch in Nairobi. The lender has 769,000 customers in Kenya alone. PHOTO | FILE
A Barclays Bank branch in Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE 

Barclays' decision to sell down its stake in a Johannesburg-listed venture is a consequence of past mistakes at European banks rather than a reflection of Africa's future prospects, South Africa's finance minister said.

Emerging markets are often "victims of policymaking" by developed nations and it is wrong to blame them entirely for recent problems such as the collapse in economic growth and the huge capital outflows they face, Pravin Gordhan told Reuters.

Recent news that Barclays Plc would sell a 62 per cent stake in Barclays Africa, reducing it to a minority holding, was seen by many as another blow for a continent hit hard by China's slowdown and low commodity prices.

But Gordhan rejected that idea.

"Barclays is not about Africa," he told Reuters on Monday on the sidelines of an investment roadshow in London.

"It's about Europe and European banks and the way they mismanaged their affairs and...found themselves in difficulties in terms of capital requirements that the financial stability board established by the G20 and British authorities required of them for overseas operations."

He was referring to rules brought in after the 2008 financial crisis that make it more expensive from a capital perspective for banks to hold stakes in other banking organisations.

These rules would force more European banks to retreat from overseas markets in coming years, leaving US and possibly Chinese lenders in the fray, he predicted.

Barclays' Africa chief has also said Barclays' move did not reflect on Africa, noting a 10 per cent annual profit rise and 17 per cent return on equity (ROE) there. The parent company has cut back across emerging markets, aiming to become a "transatlantic" bank with a US and UK focus.

But in pounds, the numbers look less rosy. ROE for instance falls to 8.7 per cent, below the parent bank's 11 per cent target.

Legacy issues are also hurting: Barclays has doubled its provisions against regulatory missteps.

"Barclays Africa will expand its operations and customer base and create more service centres in different parts of Africa... it will remain as an entity and thrive. What changes is the ownership of the enterprise," Gordhan added.

World powers need to find ways to direct surplus capital into long-term projects such as infrastructure rather than into short-term yield-seeking trades, he urged.

"Yes there are domestic issues each of the EMs have, but it's wrong to point fingers at EMs when all of us recognise that the side effects or the ramifications of the 2008-2009 great recession are still being felt around the globe," Gordhan said.

"Whenever it's convenient, emerging economies become less favoured and become victims of policymaking within advanced economies," he added.

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