BARCLAYS surprised analysts yesterday by announcing that interim pre-tax profits had more than tripled to GBP1.03 billion (HK$12.28 billion) from GBP355 million. An improving economy in Britain was the biggest factor in the dramatic increase posted by the country's largest retail bank, and came on the heels of an 83 per cent pre-tax profit jump by National Westminster Bank last week. Both Barclays and NatWest said the economic recovery in Britain had slashed bad debt provisions. Barclays' provisions for bad debt tumbled 64 per cent to GBP358 million from GBP997 million. Analysts said another beneficiary might be HSBC Holdings, which will release its interim results on August 15, and its Midland Bank unit. Credit Lyonnais analyst Laura Grenning said many investors were lining up to buy stock in anticipation of strong results. Since May, Ms Grenning has been recommending the investment firm's clients buy HSBC before the interims are released because she believes British analysts are too negative and will be proven wrong on their profit estimates. Ms Grenning said British analysts have taken a bearish stance on HSBC Holdings' dealing profits and she did not believe the business was wiped out in the second quarter. Another area where she disagreed with the British analysts was in their belief bad debt provisions in Asia would increase. For the interim period, Credit Lyonnais is looking for HSBC's net income to hit $11.53 billion while earnings per share will be $4.55. Full year profits are forecast to be $25.7 billion. Barclays' results were significantly ahead of analysts' expectations. They had forecast an average pre-tax figure of about GBP710 million and a first-half dividend of 7.7 pence. The disappointing news for Barclays was the performance of investment house BZW, which fell victim to soft international bond and equity markets. BZW's interim profits were down 23.6 per cent to GBP194 million. The company has a tier 1 capital ratio of seven per cent, up from 5.6 per cent, and a total risk-asset ratio of 11.1 per cent.