Australia's Westpac H1 cash profit up 8 pct

SYDNEY Sun May 4, 2014 5:54pm EDT

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SYDNEY May 5 (Reuters) - Australia's Westpac Banking Corp said on Monday its first-half cash profit rose 8 percent to a record high, beating expectations, thanks to solid growth in lending and a fall in bad debts.

Westpac, Australia's second biggest bank by market value, said cash profit rose to A$3.77 billion ($3.49 billion) in the six months to March 31, compared with a consensus forecast of A$3.6 billion and up from A$3.53 billion a year ago. It declared a dividend of A$0.90 per share, up 5 percent.

Australian banks are on track for a sixth straight year of record profits, bolstered by low interest rates which are encouraging borrowers and shrinking costs associated with bad debt provisions even as net interest margins come under pressure. ($1 = 1.0795 Australian Dollars) (Reporting by Swati Pandey and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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