Are Barclays PLC’s Investment Bank Culls Sensible or Stupid?

The new tenure of Jes Staley at banking goliath Barclays (LSE: BARC) took a dramatic twist earlier this week following news of sweeping scalebacks at the firm’s Investment Bank division.

Speculation became rife last summer that Barclays was on the brink of cranking the risk-laden arm back into life after the firm’s board jettisoned former chief executive Antony Jenkins, a man intent on focussing the bank’s attention on the UK High Street and away from the riskier world of investment banking.

And this chatter became louder following the subsequent appointment of Staley in October, a man with considerable pedigree in the field through his three decades at JP Morgan’s investment bank.

Asia takes a hit

But this week the new man decided to take the hatchet to more than 1,000 positions at Barclays’ Investment Bank, shuttering offices in nine offices worldwide.

Asia is set to suffer the lion’s share of planned closures, with Barclays on course to exit Australia, South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. The bank advised it will continue to provide services to its Asian clients from its bases in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and India, however.

The moves are part of the strategy announced in mid-2014 to cut thousands of jobs at the Investment Bank and to double-down on its core markets. Indeed, Barclays this week repeated its desire “to focus on its two home markets in the UK and US and to develop its global franchise.”

Revenues falling

The news will come as relief to many thanks to the deteriorating performance of the high-risk Investment Bank. Barclays said this week that it expects income at the division to have been “broadly flat” in 2015 from the previous year, and this comes as little surprise — escalating market pressures saw total investment banking income fall 16% between July and September from the previous quarter, to £1.85bn.

While it is true emerging markets provide plenty of long-term upside thanks to low financial product penetration and galloping income levels, Barclays’ decision will be viewed by many as prudent in the current times as the cyclical slowdown in China and the surrounding areas worsens.

A robust banking selection

Besides, I believe that Barclays has plenty of gas in the tank to generate solid returns regardless of scalebacks at its Investment Bank. The company’s Retail Banking and Barclaycard arms continue to enjoy strong momentum, of course. And Barclays’ sprawling presence in Africa should also sate the appetite of investors longing for developing market exposure.

The City expects Barclays to follow predicted earnings growth of 24% in 2015 with a 21% bounce this year, meaning the bank changes hands on a delicious prospective P/E rating of 8.6 times — any reading below 10 times is widely considered exceptional value.

And Barclays’ latest cost-cutting and risk-reduction measures improve the outlook for solid dividend growth for the coming years, too. In the meantime a projected payment of 8.3p per share for 2016, up from a predicted 6.6p for last year and yielding a pretty decent 3.6%, makes the bank a very attractive value selection in my opinion.

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