Barclays PLC, HSBC Holdings plc & Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc Still Have A Long Road Ahead Of Them

It has been a long journey back to respectability for the big banks since the financial crisis, and the truth is they haven’t made it safely home yet. Investors who hopped on for the ride may be out of patience following the latest delays, diversions and break-downs. Is now the time to hop off?

Barclays Bombs

Barclays (LSE: BARC) was supposed to be bombing along open road by now but remains lost in the woods, with its share price down nearly 40% in the last year, and 11% in the last month. Its 2015 results were a car crash, with that headline £374m loss and 50% reduction in dividend payments.

Barclays is yet another bank undergoing a strategic overhaul and pulling out of non-core markets, in the hope of sweating the rest of the business. Talk of selling the 62% stake in its profitable Africa business has disappointed some, but will please investors (like me) who have long complained about the complexity of bank balance sheets, which makes judging them a near-impossible task.

Once chief executive Jes Staley’s strategy is complete, Barclays should be a much cleaner and clearer operation, having been split into two high-quality financial services divisions, and (hopefully) drained of its toxic legacy at last. The journey won’t be complete until 2019, and further delays can’t be ruled out. Recent slippage could be a buying opportunity, if you enjoy life in the slow lane.

HSBC Holds On

HSBC Holdings (LSE: HSBA) has also had a tough year with the share price down 22% and its recent full-year results did little to help despite a 1% jump in profits before tax to just shy of $18.9bn. This was largely boosted by favourable one-off items while underlying profits actually fell by 7% to $20.4bn. Still, at least HSBC hiked its dividend, lifting the full-year payout to 51 cents, marginally up on 50 cents in 2014.

HSBC suffered a second-blow when broker Bernstein damned the results as “quite dreadful” and cut its price target from 550p to 380p, significantly below today’s 453p. It said falling credit demand, lower interest rates and a sharp drop in corporate activity will only make the going harder, and warned the dividend could be cut in the next six months. Given that HSBC currently yields 7.21%, this could hardly come as a surprise.

Like Barclays, HSBC has to undertake the hard work of ring fencing its UK banking operations while building its reputation as the go-to bank in China — let’s hope that prize still glitters as China slows. Management claims HSBC is better balanced than a year ago, but it still hasn’t fully found its bearings.

Low Road To Scotland

Many investors, including me, gave up on Royal Bank of Scotland Group (LSE: RBS) several years ago, as the stock repeatedly stalled. It is now down 40% over the last year and 10% in the last month after posting a set of results that made HSBC’s look quite good by comparison.

With a 2015 loss of £2bn, endless litigation and no dividend in sight, only extremely long-sighted investors will want to tag along for what will be a slow and bumpy ride. Either that, or existing investors who are reluctant to accept they took a wrong turn some way back. One day, RBS should get there, but it can take that trip without me.  

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