Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's four main banks back in black after financial crisis

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland's four main banks are now back in profit after a "painful and slow recovery", it has been confirmed. Dublin-headquartered Bank of Ireland became the last of the quartet to declare it got back into the black over the first six months of the year.

It revealed a £46m profit for its UK operation, which includes Northern Ireland, where it has 35 branches, and a joint venture providing current accounts to the Post Office.

That figure was in contrast to a loss of £97m a year earlier.

Ireland-wide, the bank – 14% of which is owned by the Irish taxpayer – had profits of €399m (£318m) compared to losses of €516m a year earlier.

Bank of Ireland was following suit after Danske Bank, Ulster Bank and First Trust parent Allied Irish Banks declared profits for the first six months of the year of £45m, £55m and €437m (£348m) respectively.

Danske Bank's profits relate solely to Northern Ireland operations, while AIB and Ulster Bank's cover the whole of Ireland.

The figure for AIB is not broken down in units so it is not clear how much profit has been made by First Trust. All four banks have been feeling the benefit of an improvement in the economy on both sides of the border.

And steadying property prices have also allowed the banks to reduce the amounts they've had to set aside for bad loans, also known as impairment charges.

There has been a fall in mortgage arrears for the banks, too, as a rise in employment has left people less likely to be struggling with mortgage repayments.

But economist John Simpson said recovery in the four – since the collapse of the sector was triggered by New York bank Lehman Brothers' implosion in 2008 – had been "painful and slow".

He said: "Simply to be able to trade profitably is only a modest achievement.

"High street retail banking with the scale of deposits on their books should be a safe business now that property and other asset values have stabilised."

And he said the varying ownership structures of the four banks was reflected in their respective recoveries.

The economist stated: "Ulster Bank is an all-island organisation which has survived with the support of its parent group, Royal Bank of Scotland, and has had major assistance to restructure its balance sheet.

"The Ulster Bank, north and south, should now use the new environment to rebuild its positive contribution to economic development."

Danske Bank – formerly known as Northern Bank – had been able to rely on capital reinforcement from its Danish owners.

And Bank of Ireland and First Trust were subsidiaries of Irish parent companies and had been supported through the bailout by the Irish Government in 2009.

Emmet Gaffney, an analyst and stockbroker with Investec, said Bank of Ireland and its fellow Irish lenders were benefiting from reduced costs, and were having to pay less to bond investors to issue new debt.

Belfast Telegraph