Banking ezine The Sheet reviews the NAB’s road to recovery:

National Australia Bank’s senior Australian management turned in an
unconvincing performance yesterday as they tried to reassure investors
that they were on top of the company’s problems and putting the bank
back on the path to ascendancy in the financial services industry.

Nineteen months ago, when parachuted into the managing director’s role
in the wake of the currency option trading fiasco, John Stewart
promised more openness and transparency than previous management, who
at times seemed bound by a version of the Official Secrets Act.

During a four hour investor briefing in Melbourne yesterday, there were
signs of some slippage back to the spin of the bad old days. Management
offered little hard data – apart from some irreconcilable RBA and APRA
statistics – while Stewart refused to say what it all meant for the
bottom line of a financial year which ends in one day’s time.

The cornerstone of NAB’s pitch to investors and other stakeholders is
that the bank is in recovery mode, and that the group’s business and
private banking division in Australia is leading the pack. Part of the
reasoning supporting this line of argument is the bank’s growth in
market share, a point the bank’s senior executives make over and over.

The caveat on this, and a point that NAB never makes, is that the data used to frame this claim are dodgy.

The bank’s preferred statistic to prove that it is recovering is that
its business lending is up 19.8 per cent in the seven months to July,
annualised, which compares with growth in business lending across the
economy, as measured by the Reserve Bank of Australia, of 11.9 per cent.

However, as the footnotes to the relevant slide in the bank’s
presentation pack make clear – but which the bank’s executives don’t
make clear when undertaking their investor and public relations –
there’s no ground on which to compare these indicators.

NAB’s measure of business lending comprises loans by the bank’s “major
client group”, which sounds like the middle market part of the business
bank; the small business segment; agribusiness and private banking, and
excludes corporate and institutional clients.

So NAB’s definition of business lending excludes lending to the top end
of town counted by the RBA, and includes some personal lending.

As the actor in those Australian Pensioners Insurance Agency adverts would say, “It’s like comparing, well, you know.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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