Standard Chartered up 39% as UK bad debts fall: Bank shrugs off 'banana skin' image but City still concerned

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The Independent Online
STANDARD Chartered, the UK- based international bank, shrugged off its 'banana skin' image with a 39 per cent rise in half- year profits to pounds 237m before tax.

The increase came on the back of plunging UK bad-debt provisions, but the City expressed concern about Standard's treasury and dealing operations.

Patrick Gillam, chairman, insisted that the new management had installed risk controls, which had themselves uncovered the banana skins.

The Mocatta bullion bribes scandal had been discovered by Standard and nobody else was investigating the matter, he said.

Neither the censure of Standard Chartered Securities by Hong Kong's Securities and Futures Commission, nor the Mocatta case, had resulted in material loss to the bank, he added.

'In both companies there were clear and unacceptable breaches of our international code of conduct. The board regards any breach of the code as unacceptable. We played a major role in uncovering the activities and have taken decisive remedial action.'

Operating profits before bad debts fell pounds 1m to pounds 294m for the six months to 30 June 1994, showing that although the legacy of Polly Peck and Brent Walker is receding, growing the bank's business is proving difficult.

On the other hand, the comparison is with a bumper year in 1993, when operating profits rose 40 per cent.

Malcolm Williamson, Standard's chief executive, insisted that the bank was in a good position to grow profits but said that these must be built on firm foundations.

'We are not chasing after commercial property lending in Hong Kong. We are happy for other banks to pick up that business,' he said.

He added that underlying growth was already under way. If poor treasury and dealing figures were stripped out, operating profit rose 30 per cent.

Provisions against bad debts fell by 46 per cent to pounds 69m. Standard used tax losses from previous years to cut its effective tax rate from 43 per cent to 36 per cent.

Dealing profits and foreign exchange profits fell pounds 1m to pounds 103m. Mr Williamson said Standard now earned more from foreign exchange globally than Barclays Bank.

Although costs rose by 7 per cent to pounds 518m, they included a one-off restructuring expense and pay rises in Hong Kong and Africa. Disregarding these, costs remained flat.

Standard's shares enjoyed a run before the results and fell 16p to 259p yesterday on worries about the volatility of treasury profits.

The bank increased its interim dividend by 20 per cent to 2.25p.

Earnings per share rose from 9.3p to 14.7p, and return on equity from 17 to 22.4 per cent.

Capital strength improved, with the key Tier-1 capital ratio up from 5.4 per cent to 7.0 per cent.

The important Hong Kong division made an unchanged operating profit of pounds 106m. Treasury and merchant banking profits fell but were compensated for by rises in the rest of the business.

Standard is expanding its activities in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Total assets devoted to the Asia Pacific operations grew by about pounds 1bn to nearly pounds 12bn. Operating profit fell by pounds 9m to pounds 68m after an increase in bad debt provisions.

Improved results in India enabled the Middle East and South Asia division to turn around a loss of pounds 9m to a pounds 29m profit.

The Indian government has announced its intention to impose penalties on all local and foreign banks involved in the Bombay securities scandal, a move that will cost Standard pounds 7.3m.

Africa enjoyed good profits growth, from pounds 4m to pounds 16m.

(Photograph omitted)