ABN AMRO sees high loan impairments in 2014 as economy slowly revives

AMSTERDAM Fri Feb 21, 2014 1:58am EST

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch state-owned bank ABN AMRO ABRGPA.UL, which is being readied for an eventual stock market flotation, fell to a loss in the fourth quarter and said loan impairments were likely to remain high this year.

The bank reported a net loss of 47 million euros ($64.5 million), hit by an annual bank tax of 106 million euros and higher loan impairments of 555 million reflecting the weak state of the domestic economy.

ABN AMRO, which had to be rescued in the 2008 crisis, has been slowly restructuring in the run-up to its planned sale, reporting a net profit of 390 million euros in the third quarter and a full-year profit of 1.16 billion.

It said 2013 marked the bottom of the economic cycle and saw glimmers of recovery - house prices have stabilized, mortgage applications have picked up, confidence has improved and economic growth is expected to resume this year.

"However, even if the economy does turn the corner, impairments are expected to remain elevated in 2014," Gerrit Zalm, chief executive, said in a statement, citing the bank's high exposure to the Dutch economy, where domestic spending has declined since 2008.

"Small and medium-sized enterprises with a domestic focus have felt the effects of lower domestic spending and the number of businesses in our portfolio that are suffering from financial difficulties was at elevated levels," Zalm added.

The Dutch economy lagged others in the euro zone in emerging from recession and signs of recovery are mixed.

Fourth-quarter GDP growth was stronger than expected thanks to a pick-up in investment, but unemployment shows no sign of decline. The housing market is expected to stabilize this year after prices fell about a fifth from their peak levels in 2008.

The government said in August it planned to sell ABN AMRO in a year's time at the earliest but was unlikely to recoup its costs. It put the value of the bank at about 15 billion euros, well below what the Netherlands poured into the bank's 2008 rescue and later support.

(Reporting by Sara Webb; Editing by Andrew Heavens and David Holmes)