BOV records €54.3m pretax profit in H1

BOV building in Attard. (source: Wikimedia Commons/Continentaleurope)

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The Bank of Valletta Group (BOV) has recorded a profit before tax of €54.3m in the first six months of the year, representing a pretax annualised return on equity of 10.7%, according to a press statement issued by the group. The group said that income remains “stable” while costs rise as the bank enters transformation mode.

For the comparative period of the previous year, the Group registered a pre-tax profit of €13.5 million, which included a litigation loss provision of €75 million, the press statement adds.

Group operating income, which has remained at last year’s level, amounted to €127 million. Recurrent costs grew by 27% to €81m as compared to the same period a year earlier. BOV attributes the increasing costs chiefly to fees and expenses related to the ongoing transformation programme and on the substantial recruitment of resources in the group’s control functions. The impairment charge for the period is just under €1m, compared to reversals of €20 million booked for the corresponding period, the press statement adds.

Customer deposits grew by €223m to €10.6b by the end of the first half of the year as compared to December 2018. Net advances at amortised cost increased by €126m to €4.5b over the same period. Shareholders’ funds, comprising capital reserves, has topped the €1 billion mark for the first time in the Group’s history.

‘Full transformation mode’

BOV Chairman Deo Scerri underscored that the group is in a “full transformation mode” as BOV embarked on a two-year transformation programme, in agreement with its supervisors, with the assistance of two international consultancy firms.

“The aim is to ensure the long-term sustainability of the institution, by reducing the risk profile of the business model, strengthening capital buffers and enhancing the anti-financial crime framework. The increased costs reported in these results primarily reflect the costs of this programme. We do not see these costs as recurring overheads, but as a solid investment in the future,” Mr Scerri said.

“We are in the process of exiting a number of businesses and closing down a large number of higher-risk relationships, all of which naturally result in a loss of income. The situation is further impacted by heightened competition from non-traditional players and by the persisting low interest rate environment. Despite all this, the Group has managed to maintain the same income levels as last year. This shows the resilience of our core operations,” Mr Scerri added.

S&P’s rating comes expected

Standard & Poor’s has lowered the long term credit rating for the bank BBB with a negative outlook, to BBB- with a stable outlook. Short term rating was revised from A-2 to A-3. S&P justified its decision by stating perceived weaknesses in BOV’s internal control frameworks and to the potential impact of ongoing litigation cases. S&P named BOV’s sound franchise, customer confidence and ample liquidity as being among its major strengths.

Chairman Scerri said S&P’s decision had not come unexpected, in view that the rating outlook had already been set as “negative” last year. The chairman said that the underlying factors for the lowered rating — the need for strengthening internal controls, government and oversight — are being addressed in the transformation programme.

In reference to BOV’s USD clearing situation, Mr Scerri announced that Raiffeisen Bank International had recently opened accounts denominated in US dollars for BOV. He added that BOV’s short term objective is to put into place the necessary mechanism to enable it to offer full USD services, assuring that the bank is on the verge of achieving this objective. The longer-term objective is that the bank will have access to a wider network of USD correspondents.

“The Board has chosen to retain its prudent stance and has resolved not to declare an interim dividend, with the aim of further strengthening the Bank’s capital buffers, especially in the context of its status as a systemically important institution. This is in line with our strategy of foregoing short term benefits in the interest of long term stability. The situation will be re-assessed at the year-end, in consultation with supervisory authorities,” Mr Scerri said.

Mr Scerri expressed his full confidence in BOV’s future as a strong, secure and profitable institution. “The ongoing transformation programme will result in a stronger and safer bank, that will continue to play a leading role in tomorrow’s economy while delivering fair and sustainable returns to its shareholders,” the chairman added.