April 28, 2020 / 11:35 AM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-Chinese bank ICBC posts 3% profit rise despite pandemic

(Adds details, context)

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, April 28 (Reuters) - Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd (ICBC), , the world’s biggest commercial lender by assets, said net profit grew 3.04% in the first quarter despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Profit rose to 84.49 billion yuan ($11.94 billion) in the three months through March from 82.01 billion a year earlier, the bank said in a filing on Tuesday.

The results from China’s biggest commercial lender marked the slowest growth in its first quarter earnings since 2017, according to Reuters calculations.

China’s economy posted the first quarterly contraction since at least 1992 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The government restricted people from travelling and going back to work to contain the spread, reducing revenue for companies and income for residents.

ICBC’s non-performing loan (NPL) ratio was 1.43% at end-March, the same level as the end of December.

Bad loans at the bank totalled 250.1 billion yuan at end-March, compared with 240.19 billion yuan at end-2019.

The banking sector’s non-performing loan (NPL) ratio climbed in the first quarter to 2.04%, the banking and insurance regulator said, the highest level since the global financial crisis.

The rise came despite Chinese regulators moving to give banks leeway, allowing them to postpone some loan repayments until the end of June, as credit card and mortgage defaults surged.

About one-third of Chinese bank loans are to sectors including transport and retail that are significantly stressed by the pandemic, according to S&P Global.

The largest banks are best placed to absorb such losses with a better ability to get financing and resilience to withstand a substantial volume of bad loans, S&P said in a research note in April.

ICBC’s net interest margin (NIM) - the difference between interest paid and earned and a key gauge of profitability - was 2.2% at end-March, versus 2.24% at end-2019.

ICBC has suspended access for new investors to retail products linked to commodity futures this week due to extreme market volatility amid the global pandemic, following regulatory guidance to halt a wide range of products that may cause unlimited losses for investors.

A broad tightening on such products could hurt bank profits, said Anthony Chan, chief Asia investment strategist at Union Bancaire Privée.

ICBC’s mainland shares gained 0.4% ahead of the announcement on Tuesday. They have lost 13% in 2020, worse than an around 6% year-to-date decline of the blue-chip CSI300 index, giving the bank a market value of 1.78 trillion yuan, Refinitiv data showed.

$1 = 7.0751 Chinese yuan renminbi Reporting by Zhang Yan, Cheng Leng in Beijng and Engen Tham in Shanghai; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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