March 19, 2020 / 6:11 AM / 10 days ago

UPDATE 2-Stanchart Kenya confronts coronavirus impact 'day at a time'

(Updates with comments on coronavirus impact)

By Duncan Miriri

NAIROBI, March 19 (Reuters) - Standard Chartered Bank of Kenya reported higher earnings and dividend for the full year on Thursday and its chief executive said it was too early to assess the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on its business.

StanChart Kenya, which is 75% owned by Standard Chartered Plc, said that if the crisis extends beyond 90 days, its negative impact on its business could become significant.

Kenya has four confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus, and the government has imposed measures aimed at reducing its spread, including banning public gatherings and closing schools indefinitely.

On Wednesday, the central bank said that commercial lenders will be allowed to extend the length of personal loans, and those of small and medium enterprises, for borrowers who get into difficulties.

“The disruptions are very clear and that is the real economy out there so I cannot stand here and predict. It is a question of one day at a time,” chief executive Kariuki Ngari told Reuters after a livestreamed investor briefing.

The lender is working with its individual clients to help them resolve any challenges, through extending their credit and increasing loan limits to help them cope, Ngari said.

StanChart Kenya’s pretax profit rose 3% to 12.2 billion shillings ($117 million) in 2019, as a focus on keeping a lid on bad loans restrained revenue growth.

Operating income was flat at 28.7 billion shillings, the bank said, while impairment losses dropped 83% to 0.6 billion shillings as bad debts were cut, helping to offset the impact of higher expenses.

The lender, which is the fourth largest by assets in Kenya, said its earnings per share edged up 2% to 23.49 shillings.

It boosted its total dividend per share for the year to 20 shillings, 5% higher than the previous year.

The government removed a cap on commercial lending rates last November and executives in the industry expect the move to boost loan growth when the coronavirus-related disruptions are over.

StanChart has also been diversifying into new areas of business, including offering new investment products to wealthy clients and insurance on its mobile phone banking platform.

Ngari said the bank is now managing assets worth 69 billion shillings for customers, up from 19 billion shillings three years ago.

$1 = 104.15 Kenyan shillings Editing by Angus MacSwan

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