Standard Chartered warns on profits as markets arm slumps

LONDON Thu Jun 26, 2014 6:16pm IST

Employees of Standard Chartered leave a branch of the bank in central Seoul August 9, 2012. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won/files

Employees of Standard Chartered leave a branch of the bank in central Seoul August 9, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Lee Jae-Won/files

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LONDON (Reuters) - Standard Chartered warned profits would fall in 2014 for the second year in a row after first-half earnings dropped by a fifth due to tougher regulations and low market volatility in its trading business.

The bank also said on Thursday the head of its financial markets arm, Lenny Feder, would take a one-year sabbatical and would not return in the same role. An industry source had told Reuters earlier that Feder would take a sabbatical.

Standard Chartered makes more than three-quarters of its profits in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, which helped it come through the 2008 financial crisis relatively unscathed.

But after a decade of sustained growth, the bank has had a rocky patch and been hit by big losses in Korea, a slowdown in its main Asian markets and the impact of tougher regulations.

Last year, the bank reported its first drop in full year profits for a decade and it had been expected to show a 4 percent rise to about $7.2 billion this year, according to the average analyst forecast on Reuters Eikon.

Its London-listed shares were down 4.3 percent at 12.03 pounds by 1100 GMT, after falling to 11.73 pounds, their lowest level since August 2012.

Revenues at the bank's financial markets business, which includes equities, commodities, foreign exchange and other capital markets activities, are set to fall by 20 percent in the first half from a year ago, the bank said in a trading update.

Standard Chartered and its rivals have experienced a slump in trading volumes since the middle of last year as clients do less business in a low interest rate environment and banks have to hold more capital against these businesses. Interest rate and foreign exchange trading have been particularly hard hit.

Analysts said the weak trading conditions in the first half added to other difficulties in some of its markets.

"Cyclical headwinds are yet to arrive in full force in the bank's two key markets – Hong Kong and Singapore. Not that Korea or India is out of the woods either," Chirantan Barua, analyst at Bernstein, said, who rates the bank at "underperform".

"Pack that in with a challenging and uncertain capital regime that won't be resolved 'till the end of the year and you have a great deal of uncertainly around the stock," he said.

FEDER OFF

Standard Chartered said its revenues in the first half of this year are expected to be down by 3-7 percent from a year ago, and losses from bad loans would be up by 15-19 percent, in line with expectations.

"The first half does look disappointing ... the main challenge has been in financial markets, and the challenges there are very much affecting the industry as a whole," Chief Executive Peter Sands said on a conference call.

"We are responding to near-term challenges in the way we manage costs, risks and the deployment of capital, and delivering on our strategy and getting the right balance between growth and returns," he said.

Sands has restructured the bank and a management reshuffle last year included the surprise exit of Finance Director Richard Meddings.

Sands is expected to make more changes to the financial markets business, industry sources have said. They said it has struggled to build its equities business, and will need to adapt to the difficult conditions in rates.

The financial markets arm contributed revenues of $3.7 billion last year, about 20 percent of the bank's total and a third of Standard Chartered's wholesale bank division.

Sources had previously said the position of Feder, who has run financial markets for seven years, was under pressure. The bank said his sabbatical was for personal reasons and will start on July 19. It said it had started a search for a permanent replacement.

Asked if was fair to assume Feder will not return as head of financial markets, Sands said: "Given we are initiating a process to make a permanent appointment you can draw that conclusion."

The bank said Mark Dowie, head of corporate finance, would head the business on an interim basis.

(Addtiional reporting by Saeed Azhar; Editing by Jane Merriman)

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