StanChart races to new profit record

Banking group stands out in the gloom with double-digit growth after smart diversification strategies
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The Independent Online

Standard Chartered, the Asia-focused banking group, has shrugged off the economic headwinds threatening to engulf Europe to predict record annual profits for the ninth year in a row.

The bank, which is listed on the FTSE 100, released a third-quarter trading update yesterday, which showed profits grew at a double-digit rate in the nine months to the end of September.

Peter Sands, the chief executive of Standard Chartered, said: "The group has continued to perform well in the third quarter of 2011 with income momentum across a broad spread of products and geographies."

Revenues also rose over the same period "by a high single digit percentage", which marked a slowdown in the third quarter. The consumer banking and transaction banking businesses both saw strong growth. Income at its financial markets arm has "performed well" and profits in its corporate finance operation is ahead of a year earlier.

Mr Sands added: "Despite recent macroeconomic events, our markets continue to exhibit strong growth and their growth credentials remain intact." He said that the group's exposure to Europe was "immaterial".

Keith Bowman, an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said the bank "continues to forge ahead of rivals. Consumer banking has again made progress, whilst corporate banking appears to be at least stable, all a stark contrast to many rivals."

However, he warned that it faced increasing competition in its growth markets, and said the Indian business had disappointed. Income in the country fell from 12 per cent in the first half to 14 per cent for the nine months. As well as the poor performance in its Indian operations , it was hit by a "muted" performance in Korea where a strike by staff cost the group "tens of millions" of dollars.

The principal finance operation was also "affected by the uncertain market environment", the company said.

Ian Gordon, banking analyst at Evolution Securities, said the overall performance "whilst not stellar, is solid enough". He had predicted Standard Chartered's third-quarter statement "would stand out in the gloom" and said yesterday's announcement "generally meets this description".

However, Mr Gordon said that income growth had slowed slightly after the first half, as "revenue headwinds continue, and 'making the numbers' has perhaps been a bit more of a stretch".

The company said that expenses were "well controlled" and added that headcount levels had increased as it invested "to underpin future income momentum". Mr Bowman also hailed the company's move to diversify its operations. A decade ago 50 per cent of business came from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Today it stands at about 30 per cent.

He concluded: "The bank remains the clear play on future Asian growth. Following prior fund-raisings, the balance sheet is strong, market share continues to be won, whilst the group offers one of the sector's few progressive dividend policies."

Standard Chartered has risen almost a quarter in the four weeks since the FTSE 100 tumbled to 4,944 points. The shares fell 19p yesterday to 1419.5p.