LONDON – The Royal Bank of Scotland posted Thursday a record net loss of $34.4 billion for 2008 — the biggest in British corporate history — and unveiled a massive restructuring program that will hive off many of its international businesses.
Britain's second largest bank, which has already been part-nationalized under bailout packages worth more than 20 billion pounds, also said it will offload 325 billion pounds of toxic assets into a government insurance program.
RBS' huge annual net loss after minority interests and earnings from discontinued operations, compares with a 7.3 billion pound profit in 2007.
The bank's pretax loss was significantly wider at 40.67 billion pounds, compared to a 9.83 billion pound profit the previous year.
The bank's revenue fell 15 percent to 25.87 billion pounds.
RBS Chairman Philip Hampton blamed the massive loss on the "unprecedented turbulence" in financial markets and deteriorating conditions around the world.
"We owe our continued independence to the U.K. government and taxpayers and we are very thankful for their support," he said.
RBS Chief Executive Stephen Hester — who replaced Fred Goodwin after he resigned in the wake of the bank's financial downfall — said he was confident the restructuring and the government assistance would return RBS to "standalone strength."
The bank said it planned to shift 240 billion pounds, or 20 percent, of its funded assets to a non-core division. Those assets will then be disposed of or run down over the next three to five years.
All assets kept in the core division will be subjected to five key tests.
The restructuring will leave the bank centered on Britain, with smaller, more focused global operations.
RBS' participation with another 325 billion pounds in the government's asset protection program was widely anticipated, but analysts had expected it to seek guarantees for only about 200 billion pounds in assets.
Under plans outlined by Treasury chief Alistair Darling last month, the government will charge a fee to guarantee around 90 percent of a bank's potential losses on assets such as mortgage-backed securities and consumer loans.
The plan should increase the capital strength of banks by reducing the risky assets they hold, to support a return to lending.
RBS' downfall in the wake of the global credit squeeze has been swift.
As recently as July 2008, The Banker magazine rated it as one of the world's top banks based on its tier 1 capital.
Since then, RBS has been forced to take part in a government bailout that will give the taxpayer a 68 percent stake once formalities have been completed. Analysts have said the jury is still out on whether the bank remains a candidate for full nationalization.
Goodwin and former chairman Tom McKillop both issued a public apology for their roles in the bank's downfall after resigning.
McKillop earlier this month acknowledged that RBS' decision to buy Dutch bank ABN Amro in December 2007 — when its investment banking business was heavily exposed to the complex financial instruments hit by the crisis — was a "bad mistake."