Lloyds Banking Group profits hit by PPI claims


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The Independent Online

The scandal around mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI) threatened to overshadow "substantial progress" at taxpayer-backed Lloyds Banking Group today.

The lender, which is 39.7% state-owned, took an additional £375 million hit to cover the growing volume of PPI claims, bringing the total set aside to nearly £3.6 billion.

While this triggered a 9% slide in bottom-line pre-tax profits to £288 million in the three months to March 31, the underlying picture appeared to be much brighter.

Shares in the bank rose nearly 5% as officials revealed a significant cut to its bad debts, lower eurozone exposure and higher underlying profits in its core businesses.

The group also repaid a hefty chunk off the liquidity support from the Government and Bank of England - leaving £12.9 billion of Treasury-guaranteed loans left to repay, down 45% from the end of last year and down 77% compared to 12 months ago.

Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said: "There are some signs of improvement within the update and the overall figure has beaten analyst expectations."

Lloyds, which includes the Halifax, was pushed to a £3.5 billion loss in 2011 by the PPI mis-selling scandal, leaving taxpayers wondering when they will get their money back.

Chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio has previously warned the bank faces a tough 2012, with income-related targets set to be delayed as a result of the weaker-than expected economic outlook.

The Portuguese banker announced thousands of job losses as part of his strategic review as well as plans to sell off large parts of its international operations.

But Mr Horta-Osorio said "substantial progress" had been made with the review, including the reduction of non-core assets as it disposed of several businesses in the period, such as its onshore Dubai business to HSBC.

The lender said it now expects to hit targets for reducing its non-core assets in 2013 rather than 2014. However, the disposals hit total income, which declined 7% to £4.5 billion.

Lloyds cut its provision for bad debts to £1.7 billion, down 31% from the previous quarter, while its exposure to troubled eurozone countries Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Greece reduced 6% to £22.9 billion.

The bank said it advanced £3.25 billion of gross new lending to small businesses in the first quarter and is on track to fulfil its commitment of £12 billion of gross new lending to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in 2012.

Net lending to small businesses grew 4% year on year, compared with a 4% decline in the wider market, Lloyds said.

The bank reiterated that it was no longer in exclusive talks with the Co-op over its bid for 632 Lloyds branches.

Lloyds is still in discussions with the Co-op but said renewed interest from financial investment firm NBNK meant it will consider detailed discussions with other parties.

The bank is still working on its own back-up plans to float the so-called "Verde" business on the stock market.

Shares in Lloyds have fallen 50% in the last 12 months to around 31.7p - about half the 63p price tag paid by the Government for its stake in the throes of the financial crisis.

Mr Hunter added: "The likelihood of reaching the Government's 70p-plus break-even point seems a long way off, even if Lloyds is making slow and steady progress, whilst the absence of a dividend is another drag on enticing potential buyers."