Maria Ramos says sorry for Absa's role in rand fixing

Johannesburg - Barclays Africa Group apologised for its role in a rand-fixing affair involving more than a dozen banks, saying that it tipped off regulators about the practice after suspending two of its own traders.

“We deeply regret that this conduct took place within our organisation,” Chief Executive Officer Maria Ramos said on a conference call on Thursday, without identifying the employees. “Those who contravened our rules will be held accountable.”

South Africa’s antitrust investigators listed more than a dozen banks, including Barclays Africa, in its probe earlier this month and named more than 30 traders for price fixing and market allocation in the trading of foreign-currency pairs involving the rand.

READ: Competition Commission names 'currency colluders'

Citigroup on February 20 said that it agreed to pay a penalty of almost R70m ($5.4m) to settle the case and would make witnesses available to help prosecute other banks.

Barclays Africa’s Absa unit said in a statement on Thursday that the Competition Commission isn’t seeking any administrative penalty against the bank. The lender said it brought the conduct of the currency traders to the attention of the commission under the regulator’s leniency program.

Under pressure

The antitrust finding comes as President Jacob Zuma and his governing African National Congress step up pressure on the country’s four largest lenders, saying they should lend more to black clients. Zuma and the banks are also locked in a stand-off after the lenders closed the accounts of companies tied to his friends, the Gupta family, who are accused of using their relationship with him to influence government appointments and contracts.

Barclays Africa was also the target of protests outside some branches after a leaked draft report by South Africa’s anti-graft ombudsman said the lender may have benefited from a bailout provided to a bank it bought before the end of apartheid.

Barclays Africa rose 0.6% to R158.51  in early morning trade in Johannesburg. It’s the worst-performing bank stock in South Africa this year, having declined 5.8% compared with the average drop of 4.8 p% on the six-member banks index.

Earlier, Barclays Africa said it will receive the equivalent of about $1.1bn for costs associated with splitting from its UK parent Barclays.

The African bank’s full-year net income rose 2.6% to R14.7bn from R14.3bn a year earlier after the bank contained costs and increased lending to businesses. Earnings per share excluding one-time items rose 5% to R17.69, missing the R17.94 median estimate of 11 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Return on equity declined to 16.6% from 17% and the cost-to-income ratio dropped to 55.2% from 56%.

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