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South Africa’s banking sector remains sound and profitable despite economic uncertainty

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South Africa’s banking sector remains sound and profitable despite economic uncertainty

The financial results of South Africa’s four major banks for the six months ended 30 June 2012 have remained resilient despite the recent global economic uncertainty, according to a report issued by professional services firm PwC.

“Although in most cases not directly, our banks have had to cope with another six months of global financial instability, particularly in Europe. The downside risks in Europe remain elevated, which is weighing heavily on market sentiment and it appears that will be the case for some time,” says Tom Winterboer, Financial Services Leader for PwC Southern Africa and Africa.

Despite these difficult economic circumstances, the four major South African banks (Absa, FirstRand, Nedbank and Standard Bank) posted combined headline earnings of R21.3 billion, up 17% from the comparable period last year and average normalised return on equity (RoE) of 15.9%. This compares favourably to a benchmark group of Western global peers that recorded average RoE for the 2011 financial year in the range of 2.1% for US commercial banks and 14.7% for Canadian banks.

“This was a strong performance by South African banks compared to the Western world. Even more interesting is the composition of earnings for local banks when compared to other countries, which shows that our banks have an enviable non-interest revenue mix and continue to operate at favourable efficiency ratios,” says Johannes Grosskopf, PwC Banking and Capital Markets Leader for Southern Africa.

These are some of the findings from PwC’s South Africa Major Banks Analysis Report. The report analyses the results of South Africa’s major banks for the six months ended 30 June 2012.

Capital levels continue to be a strength. Total qualifying capital and reserve funds across the major banks showed moderate growth. However, the combined total capital adequacy ratio of the major banks declined marginally by 50bps to 14.9% from 15.4% at the second half of 2011.The slower growth in capital and decline in capital adequacy levels reflect the capital challenges faced by the major banks. This is a result of six months of Basel II.5 implementation as well as the prospect of Basel III regulations set to be implemented on 1 January 2013.

“The major banks have all indicated that the transition to the higher capital requirements anticipated by Basel III will take place without significant difficulty or deterioration in regulatory capital levels. This can largely be attributed to ongoing risk-weighted asset optimisation initiatives of the major banks, a prudent approach to business as well as the relatively prudent regulatory capital regime adopted by the regulator over the years,” says Grosskopf.
However, there is some uncertainty over key aspects of the regulations, such as countercyclical buffers, domestic systemically important banks surcharge and the finalisation of the recovery and resolution regime that will affect the final capital landscape.

Furthermore, it is expected that all of the major banks should be able to comply with the Liquidity Coverage Ratio (LCR) envisaged by Basel III requirements, supported by the committed liquidity facility that the Reserve Bank recently announced it would make available to mitigate potential liquidity shortfalls.

The most sensitive areas underpinning the results continue to be the banks’ ability to grow revenue, contain their bad debt charge and manage their cost base.

Total income, up by 12%, shows a focus on margin protection and transactional revenues. Compared to the prior period, banks’ operating expenses increased by only 1.5%, while total operating income increased by 4.8%. Consequently, their combined cost-to-income ratio improved from 58.1% in the first half of 2011 to 55.9% for the same period of 2012.

Salaries, which continue to represent about half of the total expense bill, grew at a rate of 12.6% in the first half of 2012, when compared to the same period for 2011. This increase reflects annual salary increases as well as the increased short- and long-term incentive awards associated with the improved operating performance of the banks.
“We have already seen that the next generation of productivity improvements will come from responding to changes in customer expectations by deploying strategic technology solutions,” he says. Leveraging distribution in the world of social media will require making further improvements in the use of customer analytics to unlock value. The key being able to integrate all the levers at the banks’ disposal to further improve customer engagement. These include rethinking product solutions in a Basel III world, harnessing technology for customer convenience, optimising internal centres of excellence and improving operational efficiencies.

Total balance sheet impairments increased 12.2% to R52 billion for the first half of 2012, compared to R48.8 billion at the end of the second half of 2011. Total income statement impairments increased 33.5% from the first half of 2011 to R14.2 billion at the end of the second half of 2012. Grosskopf points out that the banks have focussed on their NPL portfolios and the adequacy of their specific impairments on these portfolios. This focus will continue given the size of the NPL portfolio (which is in excess of R100 billion) and the state of the housing market.
Grosskopf concludes: “While there are some headwinds in the domestic economy and significant uncertainties from Europe, the banks continue to demonstrate the capability to manage and adapt. Compared to its international counterparts, the South African banking sector remains sound; being profitable, well capitalised and maintaining good returns on equity.”

Last modified on Wednesday, 19 September 2012 11:06

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