A man withdraws cash from an Absa ATM in Johannesburg. Picture: Gallo Images
A man withdraws cash from an Absa ATM in Johannesburg. Picture: Gallo Images

SA’s four largest banks managed 11.6% growth in headline earnings for the financial period to end-December 2017, despite policy and economic uncertainty, says PwC.

The professional services firm’s Major Banks Analysis report shows Barclays Africa, Nedbank, FirstRand and Standard Bank collectively grew earnings to R76.1bn for their financial years to December (six months to December for FirstRand), benefiting from an 8.1% decline in combined bad debts.

This came as banks impaired fewer loans across portfolios and resolved legacy issues at their corporate and investment banks, PwC said.

At Barclays Africa the charge from soured loans fell 20% to R7bn, led by the SA corporate and investment banking, rest of Africa banking, and home-loan portfolios. These helped lower Barclay’s credit loss ratio – which measures losses relative to gross loans – to 0.87%, the lowest since 2014.

Nedbank’s credit loss ratio fell outside its 0.6% to 1% target range at 0.49%, underpinned by improvements in relationship banking, which serves affluent individuals and small-and medium enterprises; card, and unsecured lending.

Standard’s credit: loss ratio remained flat at 0.86%. FirstRand’s rose slightly to 0.87%.

"Banks have commented that the decline in impairments is counter-intuitive given the political and economic context and therefore continue to maintain judgmental macroeconomic provisions," said Johannes Grosskopf, PwC Africa’s financial services head.

PwC said 2018 had started with a "revived sense of optimism and a faith that improving levels of business and consumer confidence can translate into meaningful economic gains".

"For the short term, the banks remain cautiously optimistic about their prospects. Throughout 2018, we can expect to see continued focus on cost management and ongoing investment in infrastructure, people and IT systems," it said.