The great banking profit paradox of Covid-hit 2020

Banks made huge profits in 2020 although the economy grew at the slowest rate this century and 70 percent more companies shut down than in 2019.

Vietnam banks, banking profit, profit paradox

VietinBank, Vietnam’s third largest lender by assets, reported a 40 percent increase in profit. Vietcombank reported profits of around $1 billion, the same as the previous year. Tien Phong Commercial (TPBank) and Vietnam Maritime Commercial Joint Stock Bank saw their profits increase by 11 percent and a scarcely believable 90 percent.

State-owned VietinBank attributed the jump in profits to a surge in non-interest income and reduction in operation costs.

Vietcombank said it owed its profits to bancassurance. In the first nine months, profits had been down 17 percent, but they recovered rapidly in the last three months, increasing by 30 percent, to claw back to the previous year’s levels.

VPBank and Techcombank were two of the most profitable lenders. They have yet to announce full-year figures, but in the first nine months their profits rose by 30 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

VPBank managed to cut costs while its income remained steady, while Techcombank saw interest income increase by 28 percent and non-interest income by 65 percent.

They benefited from a particular segment auto loans. The 50 percent cut in car registration fees in the second half of the year sparked a rush to borrow to buy vehicles. VIB’s interest income in the third quarter was up 38 percent, and the fourth quarter saw probably more of the same. Income for the first nine months rose by 30 percent. TPBank’s interest income too rose by almost 30 percent.

"Banks’ results are not as we expected," SSI Securities researchers said in a note. They had forecast in April that banks’ profits would fall by 11 percent in 2020, but in the first nine months, they rose by 11 percent.

They said the rising profits were due to a surge in non-interest income and improvement in net interest margin (NIM).

For the banks SSI researched, non-interest income was up by 15 percent in the first half and almost 60 percent in the third quarter, with private joint stock banks providing a major boost.

"Payment services, trade finance, bancassurance, and remittances revived in the third quarter after social distancing in April and May suppressed demand," SSI said.

The second quarter saw NIM plunge due to interest rate cuts and loan restructuring, but it recovered in the third quarter, in fact, reaching a three-year peak as deposit interest rates fell sharply and lending interest rates gradually rose back up.

The third quarter saw a 9 percent rise in interest income and 31 percent increase in non-interest income.

It is estimated that for the full year banks' net profits would rise by 10.2 percent, while that of non-financial companies would fall by over 21 percent, financial data company Fiingroup said.

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