Hong Kong: UK bank Standard Chartered Plc said on Tuesday that it had no plans to axe jobs despite global cost-cutting by banks struggling to survive the financial crisis, but warned that 2009 would be a challenging year.
Standard Chartered’s Chief Executive Peter Sands told reporters at a media briefing that the bank had “no such plans” to cut staff.
Lenders such as UBS, JPMorgan Chase & Co and HSBC have cut jobs or have announced plans to do so in a bid to weather the current economic downturn.
Sands said loan impairments in consumer banking for the first quarter were $80-100 million lower than the previous quarter.
“It would not be unreasonable to expect loan impairments to rise in 2009, given the state of the economy and the consumer sector,” Sands said.
Concern is mounting that Standard Chartered, which gets two-third of its revenues from Asia, could face a tougher 2009 as Asian economies slowed late in 2008. That is likely to hurt its wholesale banking arm, prompt rising bad debts and erode its capital base.
Sands said that Standard Chartered, which raised $2.7 billion from a rights issue last year, would not “rule out raising more capital,” but he added that “we’re comfortable with our position.” The bank’s core tier 1 capital ratio in 2008 was 10.1%.
Standard Chartered warned after its full-year results that its consumer bank faces a more difficult outlook. The bank’s bad debts jumped 74% last year to $1.3 billion, as more corporate and retail customers ran into trouble in the second half of the year.
But Sands reiterated that the bank had a strong start in January and February, even though he added that he expects “all sorts of challenges, economic issues, as we progress through the year.”
“What we’re seeing in Asia, Africa and the Middle East is a cyclical downturn,” Sands said. “What we’re not seeing is the same sort of structural develeraging that happened in the US.”
The bank prefers to focus on organic growth and not acquisitions as a primary growth driver, Sands said, while adding that it would “look at” acquisitions that were “financially attractive and strategically compelling.”
Sands declined to comment on whether the bank was considering a bid for the Asian assets of Royal Bank of Scotland, which has announced plans to exit up to 36 countries. Standard Chartered has been identified as a potential bidder, people with direct knowledge of the matter have told Reuters.
“When we look at acquisitions, we will focus on key parts of the world that are our core franchise,” he said, referring to Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Sands said the bank was winning market share in its consumer and wholesale banking segments across all geographies, adding that “we’re seeing opportunities to improve margins.” But he did not provide more details.
Standard Chartered posted a 2008 pretax profit of $4.8 billion, in line with the average forecast of $4.6 billion on Reuters Estimates.