BNZ grabs more agribusiness lending, upbeat on rural sector

Anthony Healy, BNZ Incoming CEO
Andrew Thorburn, BNZ CEO
NAB 12-month price history (ASX.com)

LATEST: Bank of New Zealand, the local unit of National Australia Bank [ASX: NAB], continued to grab more market share of agribusiness lending and is upbeat on the prospects for the rural sector.

The lender made a concerted effort to build its capability in rural lending three years ago and continued to lift market share of agri lending in the six months ended March 31, with 22.2 percent of the market, up from 21.7 percent a year earlier, and 19.2 percent in 2010.

Chief executive Andrew Thorburn, who will become chief executive at the NAB group later this year, told BusinessDesk agribusiness is "an important focus for us" after the lender's decision to boost capability three years ago, with asset quality "improving significantly."

Growth in business lending and lower impairment charges on distressed loans underpinned a 3.4 percent increase in BNZ's first-half cash earnings to $400 million.

Incoming CEO Anthony Healy, who's currently head of business banking, said Canterbury has driven the lender's growth in agribusiness, which is partly on the strength of the dairy sector. Forestry was very strong, with BNZ the biggest lender to the sector, and benefiting from Chinese demand for logs, and viticulture has been recovering from a "tough five or six years."

While the bank has seen credit growth in the sector, some farmers have been using high dairy prices to strengthen their balance sheets by "paying down debt," Healy said.

In November, the Reserve Bank said high levels of agriculture debt, heavily concentrated in the dairy sector, were a threat to the financial system's stability, and vulnerable to a drop in commodity prices and a rise in interest rates, both of which have happened since then. The bank will release its six-monthly financial stability report next week.

BNZ lost market share in mortgage lending, with 15.8 percent as at March 31 from 16.2 percent a year earlier. Thorburn said the six-month period was unusual in that it included the introduction of the Reserve Bank's restrictions on low-equity lending, and the start of a higher interest rate cycle.

The bank has the lowest share of high loan-to-value ratio mortgage books, with 13.8 percent of home loans at 80 percent or more.

BNZ increased gross loans 5.2 percent to $62.5 billion as at March 31 from a year earlier. The bank had customer deposits of $41.7 billion as at March 31 from $37.1 billion a year earlier, claiming 19 percent of market share for retail deposits.

(BusinessDesk)


EARLIERBNZ first-half earnings rise 3.4% as charges on bad debts decline, business lending grows

Bank of New Zealand, the local unit of National Australia Bank [ASX: NAB], lifted first-half cash earnings 3.4 percent as it faced smaller charges on bad debt, while business lending underpinned a small gain in interest income.

BNZ's cash earnings rose to $400 million in the six months ended March 31 from $387 million a year earlier, Australian parent NAB said in a statement. Impairment charges dropped 27 percent to $41 million, bolstering gains from a 1.4 percent increase in underlying profit to $594 million. The bank shrank expenses 1.3 percent in the half, and reduced staff numbers 3.1 percent to 4,719 full-time equivalents.

Statutory net profit, which includes movements in the value of financial instruments and incorporates wholesale operations reported in NAB's Australian banking unit, rose to $393 million from $298 million.

The lender lifted net operating income 1.3 percent to $994 million, led by increased business lending volumes, which offset muted home loan borrowing after Reserve Bank-imposed restrictions on low-equity mortgages stifled demand.

"Good growth in business lending, tight management of costs and lower loan losses were the main contributors," NAB said in its commentary. "Asset quality indicators improved over the period."

The New Zealand unit contributed about 12 percent to Melbourne-based NAB's group cash earnings of A$3.15 billion in the half, up from A$2.9 billion a year earlier. Australia's third-biggest mortgage lender increased first-half operating income 2.6 percent to A$9.49 billion, even as net interest margins shrank 9 basis points to 1.94 percent.

BNZ increased gross loans 5.2 percent to $62.5 billion as at March 31 from a year earlier. It lost market share in housing lending, with 15.8 percent from 16 percent six months earlier, citing increased competition. The lender's share of agribusiness lending edged up to 22.2 percent while business lending was 22.2 percent. Net interest margins shrank 6 basis points to 2.34 percent.

The bank had customer deposits of $41.7 billion as at March 31 from $37.1 billion a year earlier, claiming 19 percent of market share for retail deposits.

NAB declared an interim dividend of 99 Australian cents per share, up from 93 cents a year earlier.

The ASX-listed shares fell 0.8 percent to A$33.84 yesterday, and have decreased 2.8 percent this year.

(BusinessDesk)

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