Interactive Investor

Standard Chartered ends bank reporting season with a whimper

25th February 2021 09:50

Richard Hunter from interactive investor

But, Asia opportunities mean investors still see the firm as a ‘buy’.

Standard Chartered (LSE:STAN) has brought the curtain down on the UK banks’ reporting season with something of a whimper rather than a bang.

The pandemic effect and political tension in Hong Kong, let alone the brittle relationship between China and the US, have halted progress and threaten to underline Standard’s recent status as a ‘jam tomorrow’ stock.

The results themselves echo what has been seen across the sector during this reporting season. A tentative return to the payment of dividends, significant impairments resulting from the Covid-19 disruption, crimped margins given basement-level interest rates, but strongly capitalised balance sheets are all major themes.

For Standard, the hope must be that the Asia region, and China in particular, continue to be the first areas on the road to Covid-19 recovery.

In the meantime, the bank is ploughing on with an ambitious transformation programme, including a focus on the affluent market alongside a switch towards a digital offering which could mean entry to the mass retail market.

The figures are fair-to-middling in comparison to its peers, reflected in a credit impairment figure of $2.3 billion (£1.62 billion), a cost/income ratio of 66.4% and a return on equity of just 3%, with a target of 7% by 2023.

The pre-tax profit figure remains in the black, but has fallen by 57%, while underlying earnings per share have more than halved.

More positively, the balance sheet remains robust, with the capital cushion at the perfectly respectable level of 14.4% and a liquidity coverage ratio of 143%.

Although limited, the return to a dividend payment comes with the addition of a share buyback programme of $254 million. Alongside an upbeat outlook statement, the bank is highlighting the positives, but the initial share price reaction has fallen foul of some profit-taking given the bank’s recent share price strength.

As with its peers, Standard has seen the benefit of the vaccine announcement in November but not to the extent of rescuing its yearly performance.

The shares have risen 33% in the last three months but remain down by 16% over the last year, which compares to a decline of 5% for the wider FTSE 100.

Despite the inevitable difficulties ahead economically and politically, investors are looking through to the prospects which a strong Asian focus might bring, with the market consensus of the shares still resolute at a ‘buy’.

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