Australia’s Westpac sees over US$2bil hit to earnings


Australia’s second-largest bank said it would take a pre-tax impairment charge of A$2.24bil due to potential virus-related credit losses, equivalent to about 0.62% of gross loans, up from 0.13% in the previous half.

SYDNEY: Westpac Banking Corp said it would write down more than A$3.67bil (US$2.36bil) in its first-half results, with most of the charges stemming from the economic deterioration expected from the coronavirus outbreak.

Westpac is the second of Australia’s Big Four banks to reveal estimates of losses related to the pandemic, taking a larger charge and a more forthright approach than its smaller peer National Australia Bank on Monday, analysts said.

Australia’s second-largest bank said it would take a pre-tax impairment charge of A$2.24bil due to potential virus-related credit losses, equivalent to about 0.62% of gross loans, up from 0.13% in the previous half.

That was on top of the A$1.43bil after-tax impairment charge it flagged earlier, partly to cover a potential fine over accusations it enabled millions of illegal payments including between known child sex offenders.

“Having materially strengthened capital over the last decade, building significant buffers, we are well positioned to absorb this increase and respond to future developments, ” Westpac’s newly appointed CEO Peter King said in a statement.

The statement suggested that despite the large charges, Westpac may not launch a capital raising when it announced interim results on May 4, Goldman Sachs analysts said.

Investors fear capital raisings from the Big Four could be in the offing after NAB tapped investors for A$3.5bil and slashed its dividend to the lowest in almost three decades.

Westpac shares rose 1.36% yesterday, partially reversing previous day’s heavy losses, in a market that was slightly lower.

Australian banks, counting the cost of years of financial misconduct through fines and refunds, are now bracing for a surge in bad debts as customers seek loan and payment deferrals amid an economic downturn triggered by measures to contain the virus, which has killed 84 people in the country.

The world’s No. 12 economy is expected to plunge into its first recession in 30 years due to the health crisis, and the government has committed A$320bil, or about 16% of GDP, in relief funding, Australia’s biggest emergency package ever.

Two of the country’s Big Four lenders have so far detailed a hit to upcoming earnings, with No. 3 lender National Australia Bank making an A$1.22bil provision in late-April, equivalent to about 0.38% of gross loans.

“Investors will rightly query whether NAB has taken sufficient provisions, ” Citigroup analysts said in a note.

Westpac said its virus-related impairments were based on a number of assumptions, such as lower expected economic growth, higher unemployment and an expected fall in both residential and commercial property prices, without elaborating. — Reuters

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