Profits plunge at Ashcroft's Caribbean bank business

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The Independent Online

Falling profits at Lord Ashcroft's Caribbean banking business have sent shares in his British holding company towards all time lows.

BCB Holdings, which is controlled by the Conservative party deputy chairman and whose shares trade on London's Alternative Investment Market, announced a 39 per cent fall in profits yesterday and additional provisions for bad loans at its main banking division.

A deep economic downturn in the British-run Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) and Lord Ashcroft's falling out with the government of Belize have been hurting results, and BCB shares have lost three-quarters of their value in the past five years, according to Reuters data. At 75p last night, down 2p, the shares are within a penny of a record low hit last week.

BCB owns the largest bank in Belize and one of the largest commercial lenders in the TCI, as well as a palm seed oil business in Costa Rica. The bank has called in receivers to a number of business and construction projects in the TCI in recent months, and took a $1.4m (£900,000) charge to cover loan losses in the first quarter of 2010. That comes on top of write-offs of $44.5m last year. Its first-quarter net income was $8.9m, BCB said yesterday, down from $14.6m in the same period in 2009.

Lord Ashcroft stood aside as executive chairman of BCB in March, though he is still on the board and the company's controlling shareholder. BCB published only its raw earnings figures yesterday and does not provide a quarterly discussion of trading conditions. The company did not return calls last night.