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Royal Bank of Scotland hit by $2.7 billion first-half loss

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), one of the U.K.'s "big four" banks, posted a massive £2.045 billion ($2.7 billion) net loss for the first six months of 2016 on Friday.

The adjusted loss had widened from a £179 million shortfall posted in the first six months of 2015. Shares in the lender were down 4 percent in morning trading in London.

"We've always been pretty upfront that we are in a sort of transitional period over 2015 and 2016. I think what you saw with today's results was very consistent with that: A billion pounds of pre-tax operating profit for the core business and then on top of that, a whole series of restructuring costs and provisions for legacy litigation and conduct issues that we've been pretty upfront about, that we continue to clean up," RBS Chief Financial Officer Ewen Stevenson told CNBC on Friday.

The U.K. government remains the majority shareholder of RBS after the bank was part-nationalized in 2008 in the wake of the global financial crisis.

Reuters reported shortly after the Brexit vote that the government had scrapped plans to sell stake in RBS and Lloyds Banking Group this year as a result, citing sources close to the treasury.

A branch of Royal Bank of Scotland in London.
Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A branch of Royal Bank of Scotland in London.

In common with other U.K. banks, RBS shares fell sharply after the U.K. voted to leave the European Union (EU) on June 23. RBS stock loss around one-third of its value in the two days that followed.

"Post the referendum, we have seen a slowdown in mortgage applications. Again, I think we are anticipating that growth in our loan books will be slower," Stevenson told CNBC.

Although RBS is a predominately U.K.-focused bank, Stevenson said it would have to relocate some staff if the country lost EU "passporting" rights.

"We would have to move some people to a trading center in Europe, probably Frankfurt. There will be some cost fragmentation, but for us, I don't think it is going to be a material issue," he said.

Bank of England

Bank of England
Justin Tallis | AFP | Getty Images
Bank of England

RBS earnings came a day after the Bank of England cut its main interest rate for the first time since March 2009. The bank also signaled a further cut could be made before the end of the year, although Governor Mark Carney said he did not envisage negative interest rates.

A £60 billion ($79 billion) hike to the bank's sovereign bond-buying program was also announced, along with the purchase of up to £10 billion U.K. corporate bonds and a new Term Funding Scheme worth up to £100 billion.

"We are obviously pleased at any measures that are going to help the banking sector generally in the U.K. For us, we have a very liquid bank … probably for us it (the program just announced by the Bank of England) provides less benefit," Stevenson told CNBC.

The Bank of England also made the biggest cut to its growth estimate for the U.K. economy since it began forecasting in 1992. It now sees the U.K. economy growing by 0.8 percent next year, rather than the 2.3 percent previously forecast.

Stevenson said this forecast was slightly better than what RBS had anticipated.

"Anything that helps support growth in the economy is a good thing, whether that is done through the Bank of England or politically in fiscal measures," Stevenson told CNBC.

Rivals' results

RBS was the last of the U.K.'s big four banks to report earnings for the first six months of this year.

HSBC reported a year-on-year drop of almost 29 percent in pre-tax profit for the first half of 2016 on Wednesday. Shares of HSBC have rallied since then, however, because the bank announced a share buy-back of up to $2.5 billion to take place this year.

Lloyds reported a more-than-doubling in pre-tax profit for the first half at the end of last month, but also announced plans to ax 3,000 more jobs and close 200 additional branches. Its shares declined on results' day but have pared some losses since.

Barclays posted a 21 percent drop in first-half profit before tax due to the cost of disposing of its non-core business, when it reported last week.

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