Profits plunge 40% at UK arm of Santander
Banking group Santander, which has 42 branches in Northern Ireland, has revealed a 40% drop in UK profits but hailed its success in increasing support to small and medium sized firms.
The group's UK arm loaned £4.3bn to SMEs in the year to December 31, which was higher than its £4bn target in the Project Merlin deal with the Treasury.
The improvement followed the opening of five corporate lending centres, bringing its total to 28, as well as the hiring of an additional 200 SME business advisers and the roll-out of mentoring services.
But in the first of the results from the UK banking sector, Santander's bottom-line profits fell 40% to £993m after it put aside £538m to deal with claims from mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI).
Excluding PPI, underlying profits were down 6% to £1.5bn as margins were squeezed by the costs of regulation, including the Government's bank levy, higher lending costs and limited demand for loans.
And amid expectations of another difficult year for the UK economy, the bank has warned that the margin squeeze is likely to intensify in 2012.
Chief executive Ana Botin described the results as a solid performance amid challenging conditions and warned 2012 was likely to be "a tough year for the UK banking industry".
She said: "Economic prospects have deteriorated markedly even in recent months, whilst increased regulatory burdens and funding costs will increase results further."
Santander said net customer lending of £4.2bn was driven by growth in SME loans and mortgages, suggesting that demand for personal loans had been weak.
The lender, which writes about one in six UK mortgages, said the number of homes it repossessed rose to 10.5% to 965, yet still only a tiny fraction of its stock.
The group expanded significantly in the UK following the acquisition of Bradford -amp; Bingley, Alliance -amp; Leicester and Abbey National and is in the process of buying 318 branches from Royal Bank of Scotland.
It plans to invest £490m over the next three years as it invests in IT systems to help it improve customer service and expand.
The amount Santander's bottom-line profits fell to last year