Standard Chartered Holds Line on Dividend Payments -- WSJ

By Margot Patrick Features Dow Jones Newswires

Bank decision to keep dividend suspended led to drop, despite improved profit

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This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (August 3, 2017).

LONDON -- Standard Chartered PLC, a laggard among banks restructuring since the financial crisis, said it still sees too many uncertainties to start paying dividends again.

The Asia-focused bank's shares fell 5.5% despite improved second-quarter profit, after executives said the bank still has a long way to go to improve returns.

The bank is in the throes of a multiyear cleanup after years of rampant growth fizzled out three years ago. Chief Executive Bill Winters has been unloading bad assets and resetting the bank's culture since joining two years ago, but has said it would still take years to get Standard Chartered's return on equity to acceptable levels.

Underlying return on equity in the first half was 5.2%, the bank said Wednesday. Mr. Winters said the target continues to be to get it above 8% by 2020, lower than targets from rivals who started their post-financial crisis restructurings years earlier.

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Parts of Standard Chartered were shaky when Mr. Winters took over from a former management team led by Peter Sands. In November 2015, he laid out a plan to cut jobs and relationships with unprofitable clients, and reduce costs. Standard Chartered's balance sheet ballooned in the 2000s as cheap credit from banks helped lift Asian economies.

Mr. Winters said Wednesday the economic health of its markets is mixed, and that there are still question marks on regulatory and accounting rules that could force banks to hold more capital. Holding off on dividends for now "is the cautious thing to do," he said, but the board will watch how the second half goes.

Standard Chartered's earnings largely met analyst expectations. Revenue in the second quarter was $3.61 billion, up from $3.47 billion in first-half 2016. Net profit for the first half climbed to $971 million from $465 million a year earlier.

The bank has fallen out of favor with investors, with its shares trading at lower valuations than peers because of the continuing restructuring. Mr. Winters said the bank has done much of the heavy lifting to get back on track, but that the "external environment is still weighing on our full potential."

Standard Chartered shares were flat in London before the announcement, then slumped when the bank said dividends won't restart yet. It started reducing, then suspended dividends in 2015.

It has large retail banks in Asia, and services domestic, regional and multinational companies in trade finance and cash management, among other parts of its still-sprawling operations.

Write to Margot Patrick at margot.patrick@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 03, 2017 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)