Metro Bank in talks to sell loan portfolio after accounting blunder

By Henry Saker-Clark, PA City Reporter
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Metro Bank in talks to sell loan portfolio after accounting blunder

The lender told investors that discussions are taking place over the sale of its mortgage book.

Embattled lender Metro Bank has confirmed that discussions are taking place over the sale of its loan portfolio.

The affirmation to investors follows reports that the high street bank is closing on a £500 million deal to offload its mortgage book to a US hedge fund.

Metro Bank has been eyeing up ways to improve its financial position following a torrid few months in the wake of a major accounting error.

US hedge fund Cerberus Capital Management is tipped to snap up the loan portfolio, according to Sky News.

Cerberus has had a long connection with Metro Bank and has sold the lender more than £1 billion worth of assets including a £520 million deal for its buy-to-let portfolio in February 2018.

Metro Bank founder Vernon Hill (John Stillwell/PA)

In a statement to investors, the bank said: “The company regularly assesses various opportunities in the market and accordingly confirms that discussions regarding the potential sale of a loan portfolio are taking place.

“There can be no certainty at this stage that an agreement will be reached.

“A further announcement will be made if and when appropriate.”

But there was a strong backlash to the plans, with Nikki Turner, director of the SME Alliance, writing to chief executive Craig Donaldson to call off the sale.

She writes: “Given the evidence of the aggressive tactics deployed by Cerberus causing widespread distress, I ask you to consider whether it is appropriate for Metro Bank to consider passing its customers onto such an organisation, and the potential damage to the reputation of Metro Bank if these customers are treated in the same manner as those who, through no fault of their own, fell into Cerberus’ clutches.

“I would point out that as Metro aims to expand in the business market, potential customers may not feel they can trust you not to place them in the hands of the likes of Cerberus if this deal goes through.”

Cerberus has bought loan books from Northern Rock and Lloyds Bank and been accused of aggressive tactics to recover the money.

The news comes just days before Metro Bank is set to provide its latest interim results announcement on Wednesday.

In the past 18 months, Metro Bank’s share value has tumbled by almost 88% following governance concerns and the major accounting blunder.

In January, the lender, which had 67 branches in London and the South East, said it had under-reported the risk element on some loans by almost £1 billion.

It later revealed a hit to profits and suffered a subsequent sharp decline in share price as it warned that it was short of the capital needed to grow.

The bank’s shareholders approved a £375 million equity raise in June which allayed immediate cash flow fears.

However, the retail bank’s need to fundraise prompted renewed speculation about the tenure of Vernon Hill, its founder and chairman.