Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Urgh, so I'd settled pretty definitively on the subject for today's post, my first after a week's absence. It connected stadium financing, the accursed Atlantic Yards project, and UK retail banking, subjects about which I have a little more to offer to a debate than the average observer. And then Gothamist covered it pretty solidly.

That's right. Barclays Bank, a UK retail bank with a decent-ish Transatlantic investment banking franchise, is reportedly set to hand over hundreds of millions to sponsor the proposed basketball arena that Bruce Ratner wants to build over the ashes of the best bar in Brooklyn.

I could say I'm absolutely disgusted with this move, and threaten to withdraw my money from said institution, much as I also attempted to bring the hurt to the Brooklyn Brewery over its support for the project (they're bearing up, I hear, as am I, with the help of copious amounts of Six Points and Anchor Steam). But alas, while I was a customer of Barclays between the years of 12 and 18, I discarded it in disgust at some transgression or another over ten years ago. I cannot even urge my relatives to do likewise, since I believe my sainted grandmother gave them the boot as well fairly recently.

But I find something about the deal - and it has yet be confirmed - fishy. Talk about the price exceeding the $400 million set by Citigroup in its purchase of the naming rights at the Mets stadium is probably premature. Citigroup has a huge retail, investment banking and asset management franchise, and has pretty good name recognition. I don't quite see how Barclays is going to capitalise on such naming rights from a standing start.

Which isn't to say there aren't some marketing opportunities for Barclays, even though, as Gothamist notes, it does not have any branches in the US. It does has an enormously successful asset management division, and pretty much invented exchange-traded funds, securities that cheaply and simply track the performance of certain indexes or sectors of the stock market. Building up a presence amongst less wealthy customers is a logical expansion, although since no-one knows what sort of demographic the new arena would attract.

Barclays is a huge presence in UK banking, although we're fairly certain it isn't the world's largest by assets, as the Post suggests, even accounting for the pound's rather screwy performance of late, which might have inflated any dollar figure. And there's another thing that's bothering me. If Barclays were to announce some abrupt attempt to charge into the US retail market, I'm not sure whether a pikey Brooklyn Museum news conference with Bruce Ratner and Marty Markowitz would be the place to do this.

There certainly aren't any major indications, at least from Barclays, that such a move is on the cards. Its investor presentations have noted that a growing proportion of its earnings are from overseas, and that it wants to accelerate this. Still, there's a large gap between buying up ABSA, a decent-sized South African bank, or a 4.7% stake in an Indian infrastructure finance company, to mention some of its recent acquisitions, and buying up a richly-valued US retail bank, like, say Commerce or Sovereign, both of which do have local presence. These might be a bit much for the conservative Barclays.

Still, I dare say all of this will be revealed tomorrow, at which point I will beg Mrs. Cutesome to cook me up a hearty meal of Crow au hat

[N.B. Here's the reason for the stupid title of the post]

[UPDATE: Scott , as ever, does it better, pointing our Barclays' history of questionable business practices, and foundation in slave-trading. I think this post might have betrayed my residual patriotism. Plus, the Times seems to have semi-confirmation from Doctoroff that the deal is going down. So tonight's eating is going to be tasty]


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