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Standard Chartered's 2018 profits rise despite setting aside fine cash

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AFP Hong Kong
Standard Chartered's pre-tax profit surged to USD 3.9 billion in 2018, the bank said Tuesday, after previously warning it had set aside nearly USD 1 billion for regulatory fines in the US and Britain.
The UK-based bank has been stalked for years by probes on both sides of the Atlantic including over alleged violations of United States sanctions against Iran, investigations related to foreign exchange trading and financial crime control breaches.
Last week the bank said it had put aside USD 900 million to deal with those probes, the first time it had put a figure on the penalties and an attempt to draw a line under the issue ahead of its earnings report.
In a Tuesday filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange, the emerging markets lender said its pre-tax profit was up 28 percent at USD 3.9 billion. But that figure dropped to USD 2.5 billion "after provision for regulatory matters and restructuring and other items" were taken out, a rise of 5.5 percent on 2017's results.
The headline profit was some USD 120 million lower than a consensus forecast compiled by the bank, Bloomberg News reported. But analyst Dickie Wong of Kingston Securities said the earnings were "in line with expectations".
Standard Chartered has been bracing for a possible US fine related to past dealings with Iran dating back as far as the late 2000s.
Last month it settled a currency trading investigation and said it had received notice from British regulators that it faced a USD 133 million fine over historical financial crime controls -- although it is still weighing its options over that penalty.
Wong told AFP the fines were "definitely not something good but won't affect its overall business or dividend policy".
Chief Executive Officer Bill Winters took over in 2015 and set about cleaning up a balance sheet saddled by bad loans. The Asia, Middle East and Africa focused bank has since returned three successive years of profit growth.
But Winters is under pressure to convince investors he can continue to cut costs while reviving longer-term earnings growth and profitability.
On Tuesday the bank announced a three-year plan that would aim for some USD 700 million in savings as well as restructure operations in "low returning markets" including India, South Korea and Indonesia.
The filing did not say whether those savings would be made through a headcount reduction.
"Over the last three years we have fundamentally overhauled the bank," Winters said in a statement attached to the filing.
"It is now a solid platform off which we can grow profitably and sustainably to deliver a double-digit return on tangible equity by 2021," he added.
The bank's shares ended up 1.5 percent in Hong Kong trade after the announcement.
On global issues for the year ahead the bank identified trade tensions between Washington and Beijing as well as China's economic slowdown as key uncertainties faced by the bank that had "high potential impacts". Brexit, it said, had a "low potential impact".

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First Published: Feb 26 2019 | 6:00 PM IST

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