Top China bank ICBC, the world's largest, posts 4.1 percent first-quarter profit rise

FILE PHOTO: People walk past a branch of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) in Beijing, China April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Florence Lo/File Photo GLOBAL BUSINESS WEEK AHEAD

SINGAPORE/BEIJING (Reuters) - Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd (ICBC), the world’s biggest commercial lender by assets, posted a 4.1 percent rise in profit for the three months ended March, its fastest growth for the period since 2014.

Profit was 82.01 billion yuan (£9.4 billion) for the first quarter, compared with 78.80 billion yuan in the same period a year earlier, the bank said in a filing on Monday.

That compared with an average projection for a 4.3 percent growth, two brokerage estimates compiled by Reuters show.

The results from China’s biggest commercial lender indicate early signs of profit and asset-quality recovery amid optimism the world’s No.2 economy may be starting to stabilise after Beijing ramped up fiscal stimulus this year.

ICBC’s non-performing loan (NPL) ratio was 1.51 percent at end-March, versus 1.52 percent at the end of December.

Total bad loans at the bank was 240.28 billion yuan at end-March, compared with 235.08 billion yuan at end-2018.

Its net interest margin (NIM) - the difference between interest paid and earned and a key gauge for profitability - was 2.31 percent at end-March, versus 2.30 percent at end-2018.

ICBC’s mainland shares rose 1.58 percent ahead of the announcement. They have gained nearly 12 percent in 2019, lagging an around 31 percent year-to-date rise of the blue-chip CSI300 index, giving the bank a market value of 2 trillion yuan, Refinitiv data showed.

Reporting By Shu Zhang in Singapore and Cheng Leng in Beijing; Editing by Himani Sarkar