For the second time in a year a British bank has had to be rescued. But unlike the bailout ten months ago of the Northern Rock (Britain’s fifth largest bank at the time), the bailout of Bradford and Bingley was done by major shareholders in a deal overseen by the country’s main regulator, the Financial Services Authority (FSA).

Full details of the late night rescue will be released in London in a few hours time, but it was reported online in major papers. The news will make investors very nervous about bank shares for a while, also raising fears that an $8 billion rights issue for HBOS (which owns Bankwest here) might be in more trouble than anticipated.

The FSA was harshly criticised for not having a plan in place for a bank
when Northern Rock got the staggers in late August-September of 2007,
just weeks after the credit crunch hit. They stepped in when an $800 million fund raising deal for B&B failed.

The failure was caused by the withdrawal of US private equity group, TPG of Texas. The same group bailed out the huge US Savings and Loan Washington Mutual in April-May and controls the Myer department store chain in Australia.

TPG was going to inject around $380 million into Bradford and Bingley in exchange for a 23% stake. This raised the ire of some shareholders who backed another attempt from a British entrepreneur to do a deal with the bank. But that deal failed last week and then the Moody’s rating agency warned Thursday morning in London that it may downgrade B&B’s rating in coming weeks.

That caused immediate concern that the TPG led deal might collapse and early this morning those fears were confirmed. But the FSA had previously put in place a plan by which it directed B&B’s major shareholders to participate in any refinancing move by the tottering bank, if it was needed.

London reports say that the shareholder group led by Legal & General, M&G, Standard Life and HBOS (a competitor and struggling with its funding deal at the moment) have all supported the FSA’s deal.

Under the revised deal, B&B will go ahead and raise 400 million pounds, or just over $800 million, in new capital through an expanded rights issue at 55 pence (around $1.12 a share), underwritten by Citigroup and UBS, its investment banks.

The timetable for the investment, which was due to be voted on by shareholders on Monday, is likely to be extended by several weeks to allow the rescue party to be finalised.

TPG’s decision will damage its standing in Britain and Europe because it went back on assurances to B&B management that it would not walk away.

However, the downgrade and TPG’s withdrawal is likely to raise questions among investors about the bank’s prospects.

The deal will stabilise the situation, but not solve the problems within B&B, which is Britain’s biggest lender to property investors (mostly individual in what’s called the “buy to let” market). UK home mortgages have collapsed, down 68% in May on May 2007 and down 28% on April of this year.

Moody’s signalled the downgrading as it completed its review after the bank reported a surprise loss for the most recent half, and the ratings group indicated that Bradford and Bingley would remain on its “watch list” for the immediate future, meaning possible further cuts.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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