Westpac's bottom-line profit jumps 22%

Westpac New Zealand became the last of the branches of Australia's big four banks to report its full-year profit yesterday, coming out on top in the percentage increase for cash earnings.

The Otago Daily Times usually focuses on operating earnings because they give a fairer indication of how profitable a company is before any other accounting measures are applied to a balance sheet.

However, the four banks - Westpac, ANZ, ASB and BNZ - this year made much of their cash earnings, or "bottom-line profit".

Westpac NZ's cash earnings for the year ended September came in at $707 million, up 22% from the $578 million reported in the previous corresponding period (pcp).

The BNZ's cash earnings were reported at $741 million, up 21.5% from the $612 million in the pcp.

ASB's cash earnings in the year ended June were up 21% to $685 million from $568 million in the pcp.

ANZ NZ, the country's largest bank, reported cash earnings of $1.27 billion, up 17% on the $1.1 billion in the pcp.

All the banks were helped in reporting improved cash earnings by allowing less for impairment, or bad loan, charges.

The operating earnings reported by the banks ranged from an about 13% increase for ASB, 10% for Westpac, 8.8% for BNZ and a modest 5% for ANZ.

The banks have received extra attention and criticism this year as their profits have increased, but without the critics looking too closely at the reasons for the profit increases.

The Australian banks, and their New Zealand branches, are among the strongest in the world and were not caught up to any major extent in the United States banking crisis which was started with the packaged mortgages lent to people with no chance of paying them back.

The banks allowed inflated amounts for bad loans but managed those loans carefully.

Now, the need for allowing for those loans has diminished and so has the need for carrying those high amounts on the balance sheets.

All the banks have been careful to point out their "community good" projects and Westpac NZ chief executive Peter Clare was no exception.

He said Westpac continued to provide practical help and leadership in Christchurch, including "most notably" breaking the insurance impasse that had delayed many Cantabrians from rebuilding their homes.

It also committed to returning to the CBD as part of the city's redevelopment plan. During the year, more than 100,000 people used the Westpac business and community hub that continued to provide free services and facilities for dislocated businesses.

Staff in New Zealand had completed 14,685 volunteer hours and Westpac had started a new national blood drive for its staff as "Partner for Life" with NZ Blood Service, Mr Clare said.

Westpac NZ continued to perform well and was well positioned to support growth as the economy lifted.

"We are a strong and sustainable bank, well managed with balanced growth, with a focus on the quality of our lending. And we continue to invest in ways to make things easier and simpler for our customers," he said.

The bank's strong deposit growth of 11% had fully funded its loan growth of 3% and improved the deposit to loan ratio from 66% to 71%.

"This growth has been achieved through an increased deposit focus and ongoing innovation."

Home loans increased 3% in a very competitive market and business lending increased 4%.

Agriculture was a strong performer for the bank, Mr Clare said. The bank intended employing 20 new frontline agricultural bankers within the next 12 months.

Global uncertainty continued to affect the decisions of New Zealanders, he said.

Consumers had continued to pay down debt, as had many businesses which remained focused on strengthening balance sheets rather than investing now for growth.

"The New Zealand economy is well placed for growth compared to many others around the world. The key now is moving from caution to confidence and investing for future growth," Mr Clare said.

dene.mackenzie@odt.co.nz

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