While San Diego, CA-based Sempra Energy had little or nothing to say Tuesday to reports of severe financial losses being felt at its joint venture commodity training partner, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), the red ink seems to keep growing and the United Kingdom (UK) government is planning to take even bigger stakes in its banking industry.
On Monday the UK-based global banking giant said the originally estimated 7-8 billion pounds ($10.3-11.8 billion) it lost before goodwill charges had ballooned up to 15-20 billion pounds ($22.1-29.5 billion). Then on Tuesday reports out of the UK in the international financial news media said RBS was poised to announce as much as a $40 billion loss for 2008.
Last November Sempra reported its first trading losses for the third quarter ($3 million in the red, compared to $87 million in profits in the third quarter of 2007) as part of overall results that were essentially flat for the third quarter, showing an overall net income level of $308 million.
Even after experiencing the rare loss in its joint venture energy trading business, Sempra senior executives talked bullishly about the prospects for the fourth quarter and next year during a conference call with financial analysts. That may have to change when the year-end 2008 results are in later this quarter.
Sempra CEO Don Felsinger and CFO Mark Snell last November emphasized that the trading red ink was unlikely to continue in the fourth quarter or in 2009 (see Daily GPI, Nov. 11, 2008). Felsinger based his optimism on the commodity unit’s results in the start of last year’s fourth quarter (October 2008), which he called “one of the best Octobers we’ve had in the 10 years in this business.”
In response to questions, he also reiterated that even with the British government taking a stake in RBS — which on Tuesday was reported to be expanding — as part of a nationwide propping up of the UK banks as the U.S. government is doing for American banks in the midst of global financial turmoil, the joint venture, RBS Sempra Commodities LLP, with Sempra will not be adversely affected.
A Sempra spokesperson reiterated this Tuesday, noting that Sempra was not planning to issue any statements regarding financial news reports that the joint venture trading unit might be sold. Last November Felsinger stressed to U.S. analysts that the Scotland-based global bank can’t unilaterally pull out of the joint venture, and would not want to.
“Nothing is a guarantee in life,” Felsinger told one analyst in November. “RBS will do what it wants to do, but it has a contractual arrangement with us, and every signal we have seen is very positive about this business. It is something that will enhance RBS’s basic banking business, so it is our expectation and the expectation of all the people at RBS that we interface with that they want to capitalize on the opportunities in the marketplace right now to grow this business. And we have seen nothing to the contrary.”
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