Standard Chartered profit slump

PROFITS AT Standard Chartered slumped 22 per cent to pounds 703m as the crisis which swept its key Asian markets resulted in a near trebling of bad debt provisions to pounds 436m last year.

The bank has taken a pounds 50m provision specifically to cover problems with the Chinese ITICs - the foreign investment companies - several of which have collapsed over the past few months.

Rana Talwar, who took over as chief executive officer from Malcolm Williamson last year, said that the outlook for the year ahead was equally tough although he believed there was scope for significant improvement in profits in 2000.

Despite continued weakness in Asia, the bank, he said, is gearing up to take advantage of the openings created as foreign banks pull out of the region and local banks continue to struggle. "My preference is to grow the business organically, but there will be opportunities to accelerate this growth through selective acquisition," he said.

The bank, Mr Talwar added, was keen to buy the trade finance operations of UBS, and it is in talks with Bank America about buying its business in Taiwan.

The UBS business, which is expected to fetch around $800m, has a $5.5bn loan book, most of it outside Asia.

Unlike rival HSBC, whichowns Midland Bank, Mr Talwar said that he saw no advantage for Standard Chartered in a substantial merger or takeover deal with another bank in the developed world. Standard Chartered rebuffed a merger approach from Barclays Bank last year. "We are an emerging markets bank," he said. "We operate in some of the most exciting markets in the world."

Mr Talwar said that the efforts to build up the business in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore meant he expected costs to rise 10 per cent this year.

Standard Chartered fell sharply on the bad debt news yesterday, but the shares rebounded strongly to trade up 22p at 832.5p as the market put the bad news behind it and chose to focus on Mr Talwar's upbeat projections for the bank.

Standard Chartered has embarked on two new projects under Mr Talwar's stewardship designed to ensure the group is "fit for growth" - an efficiency programme, and an upgrade of its management information systems.

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