Barclays PLC (ADR) (BCS) vs Lloyds Banking Group PLC (ADR) (LYG) vs Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc (ADR) (RBS)

LONDON — It’s more than five years since Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc (ADR) (NYSE:RBS) (LSE:RBS) and Lloyds Banking Group PLC (ADR) (NYSE:LYG) were bailed out by the British taxpayer — and Barclays PLC (ADR) (NYSE:BCS) narrowly avoided the same fate by raising 7 billion pounds from investors in Qatar and Abu Dhabi.

Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc (ADR) (NYSE:RBS)

Today, RBS is still more than 80% taxpayer-owned, and the taypayer’s stake in Lloyds stands at 39%. Meanwhile, Barclays has joined the ranks of the rank-smelling banks after a series of scandals, the latest of which concerns allegations that Barclays’ Middle East rescuers were loaned money to invest in the bank by Barclays itself.

All three banks still have a long way to go to repair their reputations and businesses. After their recent annual results, which of the three offers investors the best value?

Value basics
Let’s start with the key numbers used by classic value investors: discount to tangible net asset value (TNAV), price to earnings (P/E) ratio, and dividend yield

Share Price TNAV Per Share Discount to TNAV Forecast P/E 2013 Forecast Yield 2013
Barclays 320p 373p 14% 8.6x 2.3%
Lloyds 50.5p 54.9p 8% 11.7x 0.4%
RBS 308p 446p 31% 12.8x 0%

For a simple overview, if we rank the banks on the three value measures, with one being the best value and three being the worst, we get: Barclays 2, 1, 1; Lloyds 3, 2, 2; and RBS 1, 3, 3. On this basic test of relative value, Barclays PLC (ADR) (NYSE:BCS) stands head and shoulders above its rivals.

For some value investors, the fundamental numbers are all that count, and such investors would declare Barclays the best value without going any further. But let’s go a bit further and see where it takes us.

The banks have been slimming down their businesses by disposing of non-core assets. The affect of these disposals on the balance sheet can be positive or negative, as Lloyds Banking Group PLC (ADR) (NYSE:LYG) and Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc (ADR) (NYSE:RBS) (LSE:RBS) demonstrated just last week.

Lloyds sold part of its shareholding in FTSE 250 wealth manager St James’s Place for around 500 million pounds, adding 1.7 pence a share to TNAV — bringing the end-of-year number in the table above up to 56.6 pence and the discount to 11%.

Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc (ADR) (NYSE:RBS) (LSE:RBS) also raised around 500 million pounds last week, but in this case incurred a modestly negative result. The bank’s sale of part of its shareholding in FTSE 250 insurance group Direct Line was at 201 pence a share compared with a carrying value of 216 pence on the year-end balance sheet.

RBS’s sale of Direct Line was mandated by the European Commission, and both RBS and Lloyds face further forced disposals under obligations to Europe.

Lloyds Banking Group PLC (ADR) (NYSE:LYG) has been in talks with the Co-operative Group since last July about the sale of 632 branches. Meanwhile, there is currently no definite interest in the 316 branches RBS is obliged to relinquish, and there looks little prospect of RBS avoiding a loss on disposal.