OCBC rallies on earnings surprise as Singapore Bank rivals fall

Office workers walk past an Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp (OCBC) branch in Singapore's financial district August 5, 2014. OCBC, Singapore's second-biggest lender, on Tuesday posted a 54 percent rise in quarterly profit, beating expectations thanks to brisk loan growth and a strong performance from its insurance unit. OCBC, which last week boosted its China exposure by gaining over 90 percent control of Hong Kong-lender Wing Hang Ltd , said it expected to take advantage of growing investment and trade flows between Greater China and Southeast Asia. REUTERS/Edgar Su (SINGAPORE - Tags: BUSINESS)


Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. (OCBC) rallied after fourth-quarter profit rose more than analysts anticipated. Shares of its two large Singapore rivals fell.
The bank’s stock surged on Wednesday by the most in almost six months following the release of an exchange statement showing net income climbed 21 percent on higher interest and trading income as well as gains from life insurance. Chief Executive Officer Samuel Tsiensignaled confidence in the bank’s ability to continue growing as Singapore’s lenders face pressure from their exposure to a commodity price slump and an economic slowdown in China and Southeast Asia. OCBC doesn’t face issues with its Greater China loan portfolio, he said in a briefing. Smaller competitor United Overseas Bank Ltd.reported barely improved quarterly net income Tuesday as rising expenses and provisions for bad loans restrained earnings growth.
“Against the massively negative sentiments against banks in general and fears of oil and gas impact, OCBC indeed saw higher provisions but nowhere near levels justifying” downgrades for the stock, Kevin Kwek, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in Singapore, said in an e-mail. “The positives of gains in net interest and fee income in this environment should also reassure investors.”
The lender’s stock jumped as much as 4 percent, the largest intraday gain since Aug. 25. The shares were up 1.8 percent to S$7.91 as of 1:33 p.m. in Singapore. United Overseas Bank fell 3.2 percent and DBS Group Holdings Ltd. declined 0.2 percent. The benchmark Straits Times Index dropped 0.9 percent. The rally in OCBC stock pared its loss this year to 10 percent, exceeding a 9 percent decline in the Straits Times Index.
OCBC, Singapore’s second-biggest bank by assets, said net income climbed to S$960 million ($682 million) in the three months ended Dec. 31 from S$791 million a year earlier. That exceeded the S$877 million average of seven analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.
OCBC’s net interest margin, a measure of lending profitability, rose to 1.74 percent in the fourth quarter, a seven basis-point increase from a year earlier. That helped net interest income climb 5 percent to S$1.34 billion, the statement showed. Non-interest income advanced 26 percent to S$960 million as the life-insurance unit’s profit jumped 24 percent. Net trading income soared nine times to S$163 million from S$18 million a year earlier.
Bad Loans
Non-performing loans rose 54 percent to S$1.97 billion in 2015, mostly because of “a few large corporate accounts associated with the oil and gas services sector,” the bank said. Its bad-loan ratio climbed to 0.9 percent as of Dec. 31 from 0.6 percent a year earlier. The loan portfolio remained “sound” with a “comfortable” allowance coverage, the bank said.

At a briefing for media and analysts Wednesday, CEO Tsien said that while he expects an increase in non-performing loans, it’s unlikely the bank’s NPL ratio will exceed levels during the global financial crisis that started in 2008. In that period, OCBC’s soured credit ratio reached 1.7 percent of total loans. NPLs tied to the oil and gas industry represented 0.39 percent of the bank’s loan book of S$211 billion, he said.

Tsien said pillars of Singapore’s economy — such as real estate, retail and oil and gas — have weakened, and that a “challenging operating environment” will continue this year.

“The past year has been a challenging one for most industries,” he said in the statement, citing the economic downturn, volatility in financial markets and higher regulatory requirements for capital.

OCBC spent $5 billion buying Hong Kong-based Wing Hang Bank in 2014. The acquisition helped the bank rely less on revenue from Southeast Asia as China including Hong Kong became its largest source of income after Singapore. Greater China accounted for 20 percent of pretax profit in 2015, up from 12 percent in 2014, it said.

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