UPDATE 3-Dividends beckon as ING eyes early exit from state aid

Wed Feb 12, 2014 9:13am EST

* ING could revisit state aid repayment schedule - CFO

* Dutch review of loan books has "negligible" impact

* Extra 300 jobs to go in restructuring plan

* Bank beats fourth-quarter earnings target (Recasts, adds detail, quotes)

By Laura Noonan

AMSTERDAM, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Dutch financial services group ING could ramp up the repayment of state aid this year, its finance chief said on Wednesday, paving the way for it to resume dividend payouts.

ING dismantled its once-fashionable banking and insurance model and announced thousands of job cuts and other savings after its 10 billion euro ($13.7 billion) state rescue in 2008, which also served to call a halt to dividends.

The comments from Chief Financial Officer Patrick Flynn came after ING reported better than expected fourth-quarter results, lifting its shares 4.72 percent by 1346 GMT.

The group also reiterated that it is on track to complete the sale of its European insurance business this year and that it will cut a further 300 jobs at its Dutch retail banking business, on top of the previously announced 4,100, as customers migrate to mobile banking faster than expected.

ING has already repaid 11.3 billion euros to the state and is ahead of schedule to exit its bailout. It is due to make another repayment in March and the final repayment in May 2015.

"We would love to exit the state as fast as we can, but we have to be prudent with what we see in 2014," CFO Flynn said on a conference call, adding that the bank wants to see the outcome of EU-wide tests on bank capital and complete the insurance sale before making decisions.

"If we can get that done, we'll think again," he said.

ASSET REVIEW

The bank announced that it had seen only a "negligible" impact from the Dutch central bank's review of its commercial real estate loans, but it remains uncertain of what to expect from the European Central Bank (ECB) review of ING and another 127 of the euro zone's biggest lenders.

"The ECB asset quality review is another chapter that we're just beginning and it's not easy to predict the outcome," Chief Executive Ralph Hamers said.

The ECB could push for restructured loans - or loans where repayment terms have changed - to be treated in the same way as loans in arrears, which could force a surge in loan-loss provisions at some banks.

Hamers told reporters that ING had 5.5 billion euros of restructured loans at the end of 2013, including 4.7 billion euros in commercial loans and 0.8 billion euros in retail loans. Those have the same levels of provisions set against them as impaired loans, Hamers added.

The ECB review will feed into EU banking stress tests that will force lenders to hold at least 8 percent of capital based on a strict new defintion known as Common Equity Tier 1. ING reported a ratio of 10 percent for the end of 2013, which Citi and Deutsche Bank analysts described as below expectations.

On a conference call, Flynn described the 10 percent ratio as a "solid number" and rejected concerns about the impact that one-off payments in 2014 would have on the ratio.

CAPITAL TRACK RECORD

"It's important to think about whether any of the perceived drop is due to a structural or temporary event. The bank has generated a consistent pattern of strong capital generation in the past and I think that's likely to continue," Flynn said, adding that he is confident the ratio will stay above 10 percent this year.

French rival Societe Generale had a ratio of 10.3 percent at the end of 2013 and was able to announce a rise in dividends on the back of its higher earnings, but ING's ratios will be dragged down in early 2014 as it makes its next state repayment and takes a 1.2 billion euro charge for previously announced pension changes.

Flynn said the bank would give guidance on its dividend outlook during a strategy day at the end of March.

ING will also use that day to outline prospects for its banking business, Hamers said on Wednesday, adding that acquisitions are not being contemplated at the moment. The group is banned from making acquisitions until it has paid back all its state aid.

ING posted net earnings of 539 million euros for the last quarter of 2013, beating the 221 million euros expected by analysts in a Reuters poll.

Hamers said the bank is experiencing a "slight recovery" in its home market, which was stripped of its AAA credit rating by Standard & Poor's in November over fears of economic weakness.

The bank took 560 million euros of loan losses in the quarter, including 220 million euros for Dutch business and mortgage lending. Hamers said he expected Dutch loan losses to remain at that level over the next few quarters, given the still-fragile economy. ($1 = 0.7312 euros) (Editing by Sara Webb and David Goodman)

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