FirstRand Shielded From Weak South African Economy by FNB

(Bloomberg) -- FirstRand Ltd. expects its strategy to boost lending and transaction income in its retail-banking business to continue to deliver growth against a backdrop of a sluggish South African economy.

  • The Johannesburg-based lender’s normalized earnings for the six months through December grew 7 percent to 13.34 billion rand ($933 million), the company said in a statement.

Key Insights

  • FirstRand is growing market share by pushing cross-selling at its retail unit, First National Bank. The business is using its mobile app to offer a range of services to clients from insurance and car-license renewals to locating plumbing services to make customers more active, with the momentum in the business expected to continue.
  • FNB’s performance has helped compensate for slower growth at its corporate and investment banking business, Rand Merchant Bank, and its vehicle and asset funding division, WesBank, which only managed a 1 percent increase in adjusted profit in the period. RMB will be impacted in the second half by private-equity realizations that won’t be repeated in 2019 -- which will make achieving real earnings growth at the group “challenging.”
  • While FirstRand’s main South African rivals have expanded operations in the rest of the African continent, the lender has focused more on winning clients at home. Its African operations will continue to show an incrementally improved performance. FirstRand said. It has also acquired U.K. challenger bank Aldermore to help fund its second-hand vehicle-financing business MotoNovo. Aldermore’s growth trajectory is seen slowing marginally amid Brexit and ongoing investment costs.

Market Reaction

  • FirstRand’s shares rose 1.6 percent as of 9:05 a.m. in Johannesburg, paring losses this year to 3.4 percent. The FTSE/JSE Africa Banks Index has climbed 1.4 percent in 2019.

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