Ping An Bank follows China Merchants Bank in reporting profit growth, as smaller lenders ride post Covid-19 rebound

Georgina Lee
·4-min read

Several Chinese mid-sized commercial banks have posted growth in net profit recently, on the back of a strong recovery in lockstep with the country’s economy in the fourth quarter.

Ping An Bank, China Merchants Bank and China Citic Bank have reported net profit growth of between 2 and 4 per cent for the full year. While the results of China Merchants Bank and China Citic Bank are preliminary, they provide an early glimpse of the health of their business before finalised results are released in late March, Ping An Bank’s figures are final.

These positive results have bucked the trend, because net profit for the banking industry as a whole, based on preliminary data, is expected to drop by 1.8 per cent for the full year of 2020, according to Liang Tao, the vice-chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission. The NPL ratio for the sector stood at 1.92 per cent as of the end of 2020, slightly down from the 1.94 per cent – a 10-year high – recorded in June.

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This is because some analysts and bank officials expect profitability at China’s big state-owned banks to be weighed down by sour loans in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. The country’s banking sector is differentiated into the larger state-owned commercial banks and the smaller joint-stock banks. Joint-stock lenders such as Ping An Bank are not directly state-owned and count corporations as their shareholders.

According to estimates gathered by Bloomberg, net profit for the full year at China Construction Bank, Bank of China, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and Agricultural Bank of China is expected to drop by between 6 and 8 per cent to 249.4 billion yuan, 169.9 billion yuan, 287.9 billion yuan and 194.7 billion yuan, respectively.

China Merchants Bank’s asset quality improved notably in the fourth quarter, Morgan Stanley analysts say. Photo: Bloomberg
China Merchants Bank’s asset quality improved notably in the fourth quarter, Morgan Stanley analysts say. Photo: Bloomberg

Ping An Bank, which reported its result on Monday evening, said its full-year profit had risen by 2.6 per cent. The bank, which is controlled by Ping An Insurance (Group), the country’s largest insurer by market cap, said its net profit rose to 28.9 billion yuan (US$4.8 billion) from 28.2 billion yuan a year ago. Its non-performing loan (NPL) ratio also improved, from 1.32 per cent in the third quarter to 1.18 per cent for the full year.

Retail-focused Ping An Bank’ bottom line was bolstered by a strong rebound in the fourth quarter, particularly in its fee income business, analysts said. This helped it overcome an 18 per cent increase in loan loss provisioning to 70 billion yuan, and to beat analysts’ expectations.

Last month, preliminary figures provided by China Merchants Bank showed that its net profit rose 4.8 per cent year on year to 97.3 billion yuan from 92.9 billion yuan, also due to strong revenue growth in the fourth quarter. Its NPL ratio declined from 1.13 per cent in the third quarter to 1.07 per cent for the full year.

Liang Tao, the vice-chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission. Photo: Handout
Liang Tao, the vice-chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission. Photo: Handout

“[China Merchants Bank’s] asset quality improved notably in the fourth quarter,” Morgan Stanley analysts including Richard Xu and Daniel Fang said in a recent note. They said that “asset quality on credit cards has likely stabilised in the fourth quarter, in our view”.

China Citic Bank’s full-year net profit also rose, climbing 2 per cent to about 49 billion yuan from 48 billion yuan during the same period a year ago, on lower provisions the bank set aside for bad loans, analysts said.

These banks have been bolstered by a strong recovery in China’s economy during the fourth quarter. Even though it grew at its lowest rate since 1976, it is likely to be the only major economy to have expanded last year.

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