March 27, 2018 / 10:30 AM / 5 months ago

China's ICBC logs biggest fourth-quarter profit growth since 2014 as margins improve

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) - Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd (ICBC) (601398.SS) (1398.HK) said its fourth-quarter net profit rose 4.7 percent, the quickest pace of growth for the period in at least four years, helped by improving margins.

FILE PHOTO - A security guard sits on front of the headquarters of the ICBC bank in Beijing, China June 12, 2017. Picture taken June 12, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The strong performance by China’s biggest-listed bank shows how conservative lending practices and increased recognition of bad loans is helping underpin results at the country’s larger commercial banks, after years of decline in margins brought on by successive interest rate cuts.

State-controlled ICBC, one of the world’s biggest banks by market capitalization and assets, posted a net profit of 58.1 billion yuan ($9.3 billion) for the three months ended December, versus 55.5 billion yuan a year ago.

That was the fastest pace of growth since 2014 and was also more than the 2.8 percent average net profit growth estimated by analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

ICBC’s net interest margin rose to 2.22 percent at end-December, from 2.17 percent at end-September.

ICBC’s non-performing loan (NPL) ratio dropped slightly to 1.55 percent at end-2017, from 1.56 percent at end-September.

The lender’s net profit for the full year rose 2.8 percent, aided also by strength in its retail business.

ICBC reported a net annual increase of individual customers amounting to 38 million, “the highest in recent years”.

Its number of credit card customers increased to 88.59 million, making ICBC the largest domestic credit card issuing bank, it added.

However, ICBC still reported a 3.7 percent drop in net fee and commission income for the year, its first contraction since its listing more than a decade ago, as income from personal wealth management, private banking, corporate wealth management and investment banking contracted.

($1 = 6.2745 Chinese yuan)

Reporting by Engen Tham in Shanghai and Matthew Miller in Beijing; Editing by Himani Sarkar

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