Despite an improvement in its credit loss ratio for the ten months to October 31, 2020, Standard Bank says its credit impairment outlook for beyond the end of the 2020 financial year “remains very uncertain.”
This was in spite of its credit loss ratio, a measure of the lender’s losses as a percentage of total average advances, for the ten months coming in below that of the 169 bps for its half-year to end June.
The previous half-year’s credit loss ratio was 76 bps.
The knock-on effect of this caution is that it did not give any guidance on whether it will pay dividends for the full year to end December in June.
This wariness at the bank has been compounded by the uncertainty brought on by the resurgence of new Covid-19 infections across Europe, the US and parts of South Africa, said Standard Bank financial director Arno Daehnke, in a conference call on Monday.
“The current surge in infections and ensuing lockdowns in the Northern Hemisphere are a concern. While the broader impact thereof on the global economy, disruptions to trade and the potential knock-on impact on Africa is unclear, it is expected to be milder than that seen in [the second quarter of 2020].”
The Covid-19 crisis, along with the accompanying hard lockdown has put enormous pressure on the banking sector, as it has not only had to deal with clients’ loss of income but also to provide them with support in terms of payment holidays and support loans.
The impact of the ending of the Unemployment Insurance Fund’s Covid-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) benefits is also weighing on its outlook.
“It is always something we are watching closely. And it’s something we want to manage,” said Standard Bank personal and business banking SA head Thabani Ndwandwe.
Standard Bank, Africa’s largest bank by assets, expects headline earnings per share (Heps) and earnings per share (EPS) for the year to be more than 20% lower than the Heps of 1 766.7 cents and the EPS of 1 593.5 cents it earned last year.
These projected declines follow Heps tracing down 44% to 474 cents and basic EPS being down 71% to 236.7 cents at the half year.
The reopening of the economy has helped it but the bank says it still needs some time to see how deep the recovery is across all sectors of the economy.
Standard Bank Corporate and Investment Banking SA CFO Brooks Mparutsa said in SA, there has been a slight increase in activity in the hospitality sector, as well as upturns in hospitals and healthcare.
“Industrials in South Africa … is showing recovery, where we were significantly more worried as at the half year,” Mparutsa said.
The recovery can also be seen in fewer people requiring relief from the bank. In the half-year to end June, its relief portfolio was R107 billion. By September 30, it was down to R61 billion and now is now down to R47 billion.
Of the relief portfolio, 80% is secured through mortgages and car loans.
Pockets of pressure
Despite the recovery, consumers are still taking strain. The bank said it picked up “pockets of pressure”, particularly within personal unsecured lending.
Ndwandwe said the bank has moved past the phase where it was looking to provide immediate relief, to one where it is looking for long-term solutions for customers who can’t pay bank their loans.
“If you continue with payment holidays, it can start looking like you are kicking the can down the road. And we have no intentions of kicking the can down the road.”
This has seen it approaching some unemployed customers to help sell their assets for them.
Ndwandwe said the bank is careful about this, as it doesn’t want to get into a position where it “overreacts” to the difficulty customers are going through. He pointed to how people in certain job roles tend to find employment quickly and this is taken into account.
On the whole, it will take a long time until the bank recovers to where it was before the Covid crisis hit. When Daehnke was asked how he saw credit loss ratios evolving over the next two to three years, he did not mince his words:
“We do see a longer-term period for our credit loss ratios is to normalise back to the 70 to 100 basis point range. So, this will take a few years to get there.”