May 2, 2019 / 6:17 AM / 17 days ago

One-off costs hit Lloyds Bank profit as rate hike hopes fade

LONDON (Reuters) - Lloyds Banking Group has given up hope of a profit-boosting rise in interest rates before 2020, Britain’s biggest mortgage lender said on Thursday, after surprise one-off costs led it to miss quarterly earnings forecasts despite robust underlying profits.

FILE PHOTO: Customers use ATMs at a branch of Lloyds Bank in London, Britain, February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The bank reported first-quarter after-tax profits of 1.2 billion pounds ($1.6 billion), up from 1.17 billion pounds in the same period last year but below analysts’ average forecast of 1.39 billion.

A drop in home loans and a 339 million pounds one-off charge for “volatility” - that included costs linked to a legal dispute with asset manager Standard Life Aberdeen - sent Lloyds shares down more than 2 percent in early trading.

At 0755 GMT, the stock was down 0.7 percent at 63.18 pence.

Lloyds also reported a further 100 million pound charge to cover administrative costs linked to a fresh surge in requests for information on possible payment protection insurance claims ahead of an August deadline for payouts.

Chief Financial Officer George Culmer said the bank believed an interest rate rise had been pushed back.

“Our planning assumption was that we expected a rate rise towards the back end of this year. The market is now pushing that out further into next year and beyond ... And I probably think our thoughts would be moving with the market as well,” he said.

Mortgage lending was down 4.9 billion pounds on the previous year in the face of tough competition, partly offset by growth in unsecured credit markets including motor finance.

“Our expectation is by the end of the year we’ll be back in line in terms of balances and we expect to close 2019 with mortgage balances in line with the end of 2018,” Culmer told reporters.

“So that will probably be slightly below market growth but that’s reflective of the competitive market out there at the moment.”

With one-off costs stripped out, the bank reported underlying profit of 2.2 billion pounds, up 8 percent on the previous year and beating expectations of 2.05 billion pounds.

The results follow disappointing first-quarter results from Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays, which blamed falling margins on intensifying competition in mortgages and slowing business investment due to Brexit uncertainty.

Lloyds said that while Brexit could further impact the economy, it had seen no deterioration in the quality of assets on its loan book and reaffirmed all its financial targets.

SHAREHOLDER RETURNS

The bank’s core capital ratio - a key measure of financial strength - increased to 14.2 percent quarter-on-quarter, up from 13.9 percent.

Lloyds received a boost on Wednesday after regulators at the Bank of England said it could hold a lower capital buffer against future risks, giving Lloyds a further 1 billion pounds of excess capital which analysts said could be returned to investors.

Culmer told reporters the bank would decide what to do with the excess capital at the end of the financial year.

The bank has been ramping up payouts for shareholders over the past two years as profits have improved and after returning to fully private ownership in 2017 following a state bailout during the financial crisis.

FILE PHOTO: A woman walks past a row of cash machines outside a branch of Lloyds Bank in Manchester, Britain, February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Phil Noble/File Photo

The bank unveiled a better than expected 4 billion pound dividend and share buyback bonanza after full-year results in February, despite weaker profit growth than expected.

Lloyds said it had invested 1.2 billion pounds to date under a 3 billion pound three-year strategy to digitize its businesses and bulk up its wealth management operations via a joint venture with Schroders.

Reporting by Iain Withers and Lawrence White; Editing by Sinead Cruise and Mark Potter

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