By Lawrence White and Sinead Cruise
LONDON (Reuters) - A corporate makeover at Barclays <BARC.L> under CEO Jess Staley showed signs of paying off on Friday as the British bank reported an improved performance in its key businesses, helping send its shares up more than 8 percent.
Staley in March set out a strategy to simplify the bank's structure and seek higher shareholder returns through the sale of the bulk of its Africa business and other assets, becoming a "transatlantic" bank focused on the United States and Britain.
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It said on Friday profits from its core businesses, including consumer and commercial lending, credit cards and investment banking, rose 19 percent to 2.4 billion pounds ($3.2 billion) in the first half.
Group pretax profit fell 21 percent to 2 billion pounds, largely due to a loss of 1.9 billion on the non-core assets, which the bank has recommitted to offload, despite prospects of a possible economic downturn following Britain's vote to quit the European Union.
"Our assessment is that the Brexit vote in the UK will have no effect on our ability to run down Non-Core at an accelerated pace and we therefore remain confident in reiterating our goal of closing Non-Core in 2017," Staley told analysts.
The bank booked a 372 million pound impairment on the French retail banking business it is in talks to sell to AnaCap Financial Partners.
Other assets earmarked for sale include its Barclaycard consumer payments business in Spain and Portugal as well as almost all of its stake in its Africa unit. It has already sold its Asia wealth operations and Italian banking business.
"These are reassuringly good numbers," Brian Cullen, investment manager at S.W. Mitchell Capital, which owns Barclays shares, told Reuters. "We like the positive tone and the fact that they have resisted temptation to blame Brexit for changes in guidance."
Shares were trading up 8.6 percent at 159 pence by 1245 GMT (8:45 a.m. ET).
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Confidence in Britain's economic outlook has dropped sharply since voters opted to leave the EU on June 23, triggering a fresh bout of pessimism in a sector bruised by the costs of tighter regulation, restructuring and record low interest rates.
But Staley said the bank had lent 2 billion pounds of mortgages to UK homebuyers since the Brexit vote, 8 percent more than the same period last year.
Barclays finance director Tushar Morzaria said the bank had no plans to accelerate branch closures in Britain, in contrast to Lloyds Banking Group <LLOY.L> which on Thursday announced a fresh 200 closures.
"We haven't put a target out there but it certainly won't be more than 100 this year," Morzaria said.
Barclays' investment banking unit saw income fall 5 percent in the first half as plunging revenue from a pared-back stock trading division offset improved returns from credit trading.
Total operating expenses fell by a tenth to 7.7 billion pounds, partly reflecting reduced litigation and conduct charges and tighter compensation costs. It said it remained on course to deliver a full-year cost target of 12.8 billion pounds on its core unit.
"Current-year profitability is being depressed by the accelerated run-off of non-core (assets) and we expect this drag to materially reduce in coming years," Shore Capital analyst Gary Greenwood said in a note.
Barclays has already cut its dividend from 6.5 pence per share to 3 pence from 2016 in order to maintain capital levels while it grapples with the expense of its revamp.
Barclays also took an additional 400 million pound impairment charge for consumer redress related to the mis-selling of payment protection insurance products in Britain, taking its total to 2 billion pounds.
The bank's core capital ratio, a key measure of financial strength, rose to 11.6 percent from 11.3 percent at the end of March, better than some analysts' expectations but still the lowest among major British lenders.
"Barclays is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde character at the moment, but Doctor Jekyll is starting to gain more control, as all the grisly bits of the bank get wound down," Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said in a note.
(Editing by David Holmes and Mark Potter)