Belfast Telegraph

Northern content with its Danish inspection

By Heather McGarrigle

Northern Bank has said it is "comfortable" with a report into its finances which predicts more bad debts for the province's second-biggest bank.

The lender, a subsidiary of Danish banking giant Danske, was inspected by the Danish Financial Supervisory Authority (FSA) in September 2011.

It report, released last month, predicts "significant impairment charges" for Northern in future.

It said commercial property lending by the bank was a contributory factor and overall, blamed "difficult conditions" in the Northern Ireland property market.

The FSA reported Northern's total loan impairment charges were DKK4.3bn (£0.48bn) at June 30 - 8% of its loans.

The bank recorded bad loan charges of £25.9m in the third quarter - but the FSA believes £1.6m should be added to this.

But Northern insisted the report contained more good news than bad. It said: "We are comfortable with the findings of this report, which in our view is actually a very positive statement from the Danish FSA."

The bank said the document assessed Northern Bank's credit management regarding business as "satisfactory", found no weakness in lending to personal customers and had no objection to the assessment of solvency needs.

It added: "The challenges in the property market are well known to us all and given the current economic climate it is not a surprise to us that the Danish FSA expresses some concern regarding the general economic outlook and the impact it could have on the financial performance of local businesses and private households. But despite the obvious challenges of a weak local and international economy, we believe there is a major opportunity for Northern Bank to grow and to play a part in driving the economy forward."

John Wright, banker and former chief executive of the institution said all the province's banks face similar problems.

He said: "In my view Northern Bank has the same issues as all the banks in Northern Ireland and indeed in Ireland. I suspect that owing to traditionally conservative lending policies they would be relatively less exposed than their peers in Northern Ireland."

Mr Wright said the FSA's "modest" add-on of £1.6m indicated Northern's management were "on top of" impairments.