Progressive posts £3.3m increase in its profits
Northern Ireland's biggest home-grown building society has announced an increase in pre-tax profits to £3.3m.
Progressive chief executive Darina Armstrong said the society, which emphasises its cautious approach to lending, was pleased with a "strong" set of results for 2011.
But she said the institution's results came in a "tough economic environment".
"The mortgage market in Northern Ireland is very difficult and there aren't as many transactions taking place," she said. "We did obviously get our fair share of business during the good times but we don't have huge volumes of business coming through."
New mortgage lending had fallen slightly to £106m from £107m the year before, with a £3m slump in mortgage balances to £1.29bn. Savings receipts were down from £344m to £310m - but pre-tax profit grew from £3.1m to £3.3m.
The society admitted that hopes of a slow recovery in the housing market at the start of 2011 were unfounded with the year instead characterised by market uncertainty due to difficulties in the eurozone.
Mrs Armstrong said she was reluctant to make predictions for 2012.
However, she said anecdotal evidence suggested a pick-up in house sales so far this year, adding that a Progressive mortgage product requiring a 5% deposit had been "very successful".
"If you listen to reports you'd think high deposits are putting people off but I honestly don't think that's the case. I don't think people are buying houses at the same rate," she said.
She said like all institutions the society had suffered in the downturn "but if anything we are probably in a stronger position as we haven't had the same losses that they have had to declare".
Habits were also changing among borrowers. "A few years ago people would have increased their lending and made home improvements. But now the fashion is to pay off your mortgage as soon as possible. There is more prudence which suits us as we like the old-fashioned way."
However, Progressive had also increased its bad debt provision by £5.8m. Mrs Armstrong said: "Although we saw the frequency of mortgage arrears levelling out in 2011, we considered it prudent to make an additional provision in respect of those borrowers for whom we have changed repaying arrangements to help them through financial difficulties.
"Although these forbearance arrangements are helping borrowers stay out of arrears, we have acknowledged in our accounts that these mortgages do carry a higher risk of becoming problem loans in the future."