* NAB posts 9.3 percent rise in full-year cash earnings
* Bad debt provisions fall 26 pct
* Final dividend up 7 cents to 97 cents; revenue up 2 pct
* “Big Four” on track for combined record results
By Jackie Range
SYDNEY, Oct 31 (Reuters) - National Australia Bank Ltd , the country’s top lender by assets, said full-year cash earnings rose 9.3 percent to a record high, boosted by earnings growth in all its banking businesses and a lower charge for bad debts.
The result made it the third of Australia’s “Big Four” banks to report a record annual profit, although its earnings potential has been constrained by its struggling British businesses.
NAB, the smallest of the quartet by market value, booked cash earnings of A$5.9 billion ($5.60 billion), beating a consensus estimate of A$5.8 billion from three analysts surveyed by Reuters.
Cash earnings, which excludes one-off and non-cash accounting items, are closely watched by investors.
“The group’s full year results show an improved performance across most business units, combined with solid progress against our simplification and digitisation agenda,” Chief Executive Cameron Clyne said in a statement.
Full year bad debt provisions fell to A$1.9 billion, compared with A$2.6 billion a year ago, helped by some improvement in the UK banking environment.
NAB’s troubled British business, which includes Yorkshire and Clydesdale bank branches, has been weighing on its performance and investors are watching for the bank’s potential exit of its assets there.
NAB’s wealth division saw a 5 percent fall in its cash earnings.
Revenues grew 2 percent to A$18.6 billion, confirming analysts’ expectations of slower topline growth. Statutory profit rose 33.6 percent to A$5.45 billion.
NAB has about a quarter of the business lending market in Australia and has been gaining market share in the mortgage market.
Australia’s “Big Four” banks - NAB, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, and Westpac Banking Corp - have been doling out lofty dividends as they post record results.
NAB continued the trend with a 7.8 percent rise in its final dividend to A$0.97.
The earnings boon has boosted the banks’ share prices, with ANZ stock hitting a new record when it announced its earnings on Tuesday.
NAB shares have gained about 45 percent this year, outstripping a 17 percent rise in the broader market. ($1 = 1.0537 Australian dollars) (Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Lincoln Feast)