I couldn't help noticing this article in the Guardian. "Taxpayers Left With £10bn Loss On RBS Stake", the headline screams.
Here's the story:
Taxpayers were left with a £10bn loss on their stake in Royal Bank of Scotland shares at the end of 2014.
The 79% shareholding in RBS was bought at an average of 502p a share, well above the 394p at which the shares ended the year.
Shocking. How dare the Government sell OUR shares in RBS at such a loss! That's worse even than Royal Mail. This Government goes from bad to worse, doesn't it?
And then Ms. Treanor moves briskly on to discussing Lloyds, where the taxpayer is actually making a profit:
In contrast, shares in Lloyds Banking Group ended at 75.8p, above the average price of 73.6p at which the government bailed out the bank six years ago. The taxpayer owns 24% of the bank but that stake could fall to 20% in the next six months under a plan announced by George Osborne three weeks ago to sell off further shares.Wait, wait. You mean these shares haven't actually been sold at all? All that has happened is that 2014 has ended?
Yes, that's exactly what Ms. Treanor means. The Government hasn't sold any more of its stake in Lloyds - although it is planning to, as she reports, though it has set a floor on the prospective sale price:
The chancellor, who has backed away from offering the stock to retail investors, has committed not to sell off any of the remaining shares for less than 73.6p each.And it hasn't sold ANY of its stake in RBS. That shocking £10bn loss is UNREALISED. It does not exist. No-one has lost any money. None whatsoever. Nil. Nix. Nor will they, unless the Government decides to sell its stake at a loss - which given there is an election looming is pure fantasy.
Indeed the £10bn is actually a considerable improvement on the unrealised loss at the end of 2013, reflecting a better year for RBS. Unfortunately the same can't be said for Lloyds:
Although higher than the bailout price, Lloyds shares ended the year at a lower level than at the end of 2013, when they traded at 78.8p, while RBS shares are higher than the 338p at which they ended 2013 – representing a £14.5bn loss for taxpayers on the bailout.And this raises a question. Why is Ms. Treanor reporting what is actually a substantial improvement for RBS as if it is another shocking loss, when the real story here is the poor performance of Lloyds?
I know why. I was attracted by the headline, wasn't I? It's clickbait. The Guardian should be ashamed of itself.