Standard Chartered 2012 profit steady despite US fine

Standard Chartered on Tuesday said its net profit was flat in 2012, even after the British lender was hit by huge fines for violating US sanctions on Iran and other countries.

Net profit came in at US$4.79 billion, compared to $4.75 billion in 2011, the London-based, Asia-focused lender said in a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange. Pre-tax profit rose one percent to $6.9 billion.

While income rose eight percent to $19.07 billion, profit was hit by the $667 million in fines it was forced to pay US authorities last year to settle charges it violated sanctions, the bank said.

The settlements "dented our profit growth and damaged our reputation," group chief executive Peter Sands said in a statement.

Despite the hefty fine, the bank -- which has a strong footprint in emerging markets that has helped shield it from the eurozone crisis and outshine competitors -- clocked up a 10th consecutive year of income and profit growth.

Investors and analysts hailed the results and the bank's share price rose 2.76 percent to 1,829.1 pence on London's FTSE 100 index of leading companies.

Atif Latif, director of trading at Guardian Stockbrokers in London, said the full-year result was an "excellent set of numbers".

"Standard Chartered have struggled in the past with the negative news we have seen for the sector and these results should appease those investors that have been patient," he said.

The bank's group chairman John Peace said Standard Chartered "remains a growth story" and that it has entered 2013 with "strong momentum".

The bank is paying a dividend of 84 cents per share, up 10.5 per cent year-on-year.

Standard Chartered agreed to pay US authorities the huge fines last year to settle charges it violated American sanctions, principally on Iran but also on Myanmar, Libya and Sudan.

US authorities said the bank had stripped messages on financial transfers routed through US banks of information that would show the beneficiaries were businesses and entities that fell under American sanctions.

US authorities are pushing harder on the banking sector to fall in line with its sanctions, especially on Iran as it seeks to pressure Tehran to give up its controversial nuclear programme.

Chief executive Sands said the bank's performance was also affected by slower growth in key markets such as India and China, which both suffered slowdowns last year.

"The macroeconomic environment -- normally a tailwind for us, given the markets we are in -- also proved quite challenging in 2012," he said.

Business slowed in India with revenue falling 12 percent last year, Sands said, but added that the "mood in India has changed noticeably since last summer" and investor activity "undoubtedly picked up".

"Given the headwinds we faced in 2012, it is no surprise that both income and profit growth for the group as a whole were somewhat slower," Sands said.

Standard Chartered has a strong presence in emerging markets and managed to survive the global financial crisis without state assistance. It makes around 90 percent of its profits in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Sands said he was positive on the bank's outlook for this year, after seeing good momentum in its consumer and wholesale banking sectors so far this year.

Standard Chartered reported a 12-percent rise in its 2011 net profit to a record $4.75 billion, thanks to strong performance in developing economies.

On Monday, another Asia-focused giant HSBC -- which was hit by a $1.9 billion fine to settle US allegations of money laundering -- said its 2012 net profit sank 16.5 percent to $14.03 billion in 2012.