Since the Financial Crisis, increased regulation and onerous capital requirements have decreased the profitability of most major investment banks and called into question the viability of the universal banking model. Despite this, Barclays (LSE: BARC) has so far resisted calls to spin out its still-large investment bank and focus on more profitable and less-risky divisions. The high capital buffers and increased compliance costs now necessary to maintain the investment bank have caused return-on-equity (RoE) to lag far behind the credit card and retail banking division’s returns.

Q3 2015 Results by Division

Division RoE % Revenue £m Expenses £m Post- tax Profit £m
Barclaycard 22.5 1292 507 353
Retail 14.4 2180 1256 646
Africa 9.7 861 543 90
Investment Bank 5.2 1811 1459 182

Although the investment bank is still profitable, we see it requires resources that far outstrip its profits contributed to the group as a whole. Despite the fact that 2015 was a record year for mergers & acquisitions advisory fees, a dramatic fall in trading profits kept Barclay’s investment bank minimally profitable. Certainly, since the Financial Crisis, the investment bank has failed to pull its weight for Barclays and I don’t see this changing any time soon.

While management is closing less-profitable branches in South East Asia and South America, it will still require significant capital reserves and costly compliance teams to maintain operations in the US, Asia and Europe. If Barclays were to focus on retail banking in the UK, Barclaycard and African retail banking, it could return capital to shareholders and unlock significant value that the investment bank is holding back.

Fuzzy logic?

Stagnation in spirits sales pushed Diageo (LSE: DGE) to divest over £1bn of sprawling wine and beer assets in the past year in order to focus on its core spirits business. While sales of American vineyards, Scottish golf resorts and Jamaican beers have allowed the company to refocus on brands such as Smirnoff and Johnnie Walker, it has stubbornly held onto brewer Guinness. Management’s reasoning for this has been that selling more Guinness in Africa will provide an introduction to growth markets into which Captain Morgan and Crown Royal can follow. This logic is rather fuzzy to me, especially as spirits sales have been strong even in African markets where Guinness isn’t a particularly big seller.

Furthermore, the recent $110bn tie-up between SABMiller and AB Inbev shows that a frothy beer market could lead the sale of Guinness to bring in upwards of £7bn, according to Bernstein. This cash could be put to good use paying off some of the company’s £9bn in net debt or acquiring smaller, craft brands to which millennial drinkers are flocking. Net sales were down 2% year-on-year in the critical North American market, which accounts for 45% of operating profit, and Diageo desperately needs to work out how to bring youthful tipplers into the fold. Although Diageo’s beer sales are growing by double-digits in Africa, the region provides only 8% of group profits and I believe management would be better off concentrating on selling more of the high-margin premium spirits for which it’s known.

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Ian Pierce has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Barclays and Diageo. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.