Profit doubled but Standard plans sell-offs: Bank group plans to focus on newly industrialised and emerging markets

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The Independent Online
STANDARD Chartered yesterday unveiled profits for last year up more than 100 per cent to pounds 401m before tax, but warned it was taking 'urgent management action' to cut costs in the worldwide banking group.

Patrick Gillam, the chairman, also said the bank would sell businesses that did not contribute to its strategy of concentrating on newly industrialised and emerging markets. But he refused to say which businesses might be sold in Europe and elsewhere, and added that very profitable operations outside this core strategy might still be kept.

The increase in pre-tax profits, from pounds 189m in 1992, was accompanied by an expected 20 per cent dividend increase. But the City was disappointed and marked the shares down 37p to 1,143p.

Mr Gillam said the group's strategy was 'all about building on our valuable franchises in the developing world'. The bank's profits were dominated by Asia Pacific operations, which made pounds 373m before tax after a release of past bad debt provisions. But in the UK there was a loss of pounds 16m after bad debt provisions of pounds 139m, which were pounds 16m higher than the year before. Malcolm Williamson, chief executive, said the slow recovery in the UK had yet to be felt in the portfolio of non-performing debt.

The bank decided to make further provisions on its existing loans to corporate customers. Total bad debt provisions were pounds 233m, a reduction of pounds 131m.

But the 1992 bad debts included pounds 269m for the costs of the Bombay securities market scandal. Since then, Standard has recovered pounds 34m and Mr Gillam said: 'We are vigorously pursuing further recoveries and expect to get more money back.'

Standard has yet to be affected by the trade row between Britain and Malaysia but is concerned that it will be hit if trade with UK companies tails off.

The group is continuing with a claim against Price Waterhouse over losses at a banking offshoot in the US, where an earlier award of more than dollars 300m ( pounds 200m) against the auditors was overturned. Mr Williamson said: 'We remain convinced that we have a good case and we are determined to pursue it strongly.'

Like most banks, profits from Standard's trading operations increased sharply on the back of rising markets last year. Dealing and foreign exchange profits were pounds 247m against pounds 159m in 1992.

In Hong Kong, Mr Williamson said the bank was taking a conservative approach to corporate and investment banking by reducing its lending to commercial property and concentrating on trade and working capital finance for business rather than longer-term loans.

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