Standard Chartered slashes dividend on profit slump

PHOTO: Reuters

HONG KONG - Asia-focused British bank Standard Chartered slashed dividends by 50 percent on Wednesday after profits plunged in the first half of the year, its first result under new leadership as it struggles to return to growth.

Net profit slumped 36.7 percent in the six months to June compared to the same period in 2014, with pre-tax profits nosediving 44 percent.

Shareholder dividends were cut by half from 28.8 cents per share to 14.4 cents per share.

Group CEO Bill Winters, former co-head at JP Morgan, took the reins from Peter Sands in June after shareholder calls for a boardroom cull following profit warnings.

Last month Winters appointed a new management team reporting directly to him as he tries to cut costs and improve performance.

But there was little cheer in the first-half results.

"We have delivered good progress on our target of strengthening the group's capital ratio and will continue to do so," said chairman John Peace in a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange.

"However, these actions have also impacted our return on equity, and combined with a disappointing earnings performance and the current near-term outlook for the group, the board has decided to reduce the dividend by 50 per cent," he said.

Winters said the bank faced some "very real challenges".

"But they are fixable and it is important to remember that there is a strong business at the heart of the group," he said.

Net profit dropped from US$2.31 billion to US$1.46 billion, with adjusted profit before tax down from US$3.27 billion to US$1.82 billion.

Revenues were down eight percent while impairment losses on loans almost doubled.

Analysts said although the dividend cut was sharp, investors would be pleased the bank had not taken more drastic capital raising measures.

"The overall result is short of expectations. As an international bank, it isn't running as smoothly (as it should)," said Jackson Wong, associate director for Simsen Financial Group.

But he added: "No capital raising plan is welcomed by shareholders. Investors are holding on for Bill Winters to take the bank to a new direction."

'Not good news'

Others said the dividend cut would affect sentiment.

"They are keeping the cash close to their chest. It's not good news. People don't like dividend cuts," said analyst Francis Lun.

"Standard Chartered is still facing a challenging environment in the second half." Shares in the bank were up 0.7 percent in morning trading in London.

Standard Chartered survived the 2008 global financial crisis without state assistance, unlike many of its peers.

However it has suffered in recent times from a growth slowdown in emerging market economies in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, the regions from which it makes about 90 percent of its profits.

In 2014 it was also hit by a $300 million fine from New York state's banking regulator for failing to detect possible money-laundering.

That came two years after it had paid US regulators US$667 million to settle charges that it violated US sanctions by handling thousands of transactions involving Iran, Myanmar, Libya and Sudan.

The bank's net profit fell by 37 percent in 2014, the second consecutive year of decline, prompting bosses to announce in March this year that they would forgo their bonuses.

Standard Chartered said in January it would axe 2,000 jobs around the world in 2015 as it tries to make savings of US$400 million in a structural overhaul.