France’s Credit Agricole beats profit target a year early

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A Credit Agricole logo is seen outside a bank office in Reze near Nantes

LONDON -Credit Agricole SA beat its 2022 profit target a year early as lower costs for troubled loans and rising revenues across business lines boosted fourth-quarter results beyond consensus, France’s second-biggest listed bank said on Thursday.

The lender said it would present a new strategic plan for 2025 on June 22 after underlying net income came in at about 5.4 billion euros ($6.17 billion) for 2021, well above its 5-billion target for this year.

Other key 2022 targets, such as a cost-to-income ratio below 60% and a return on tangible equity of more than 11% were met, with 2021 figures standing at 57.8% and 13.1% respectively.

The group, which has a policy of paying half of profits to shareholders, said it would propose a 2021 dividend of 1.05 euro per share which includes a 20 cents catch-up for the 2019 dividend which could not be paid.

The European Central Bank restricted dividend payments in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis to beef up lenders’ balance sheets but with those restrictions lifted, Credit Agricole intends to add a 20 cent payment to its 2022 dividend to compensate shareholders.

Speaking to reporters, Credit Agricole’s CFO Jerome Grivet declined to comment further on the group’s payout policy, explaining any change would be divulged during the presentation of the new strategic plan in June.

“At this stage, we don’t plan to start further buyback”, he added.

Rebounding economic growth and rising interest rates have prompted other European banks to raise shareholder returns.

Shares in Credit Agricole touched a session high of 14 euros on Wednesday, their highest level since 2018 after bouncing back nearly 150% since the coronavirus crash in March 2020.

Fourth-quarter profit jumped to 1.428 billion euros from 124 million euros a year earlier when a 778 million euros goodwill impairment for its Italian operations hit its results.

Like-for-like cost of risk, reflecting provisions against bad loans, fell by 34.5% over the quarter to 328 millions euros.

French and international retail banking, asset servicing, investment banking, insurances and asset management all saw double-digit increases in net income in the last three months of 2021.

Overall, revenue rose to 5.8 billion euros, up more than 10% from the same period in 2020.

Low customer demand was blamed for lower revenue in capital markets, which fell 8% due notably to an 11.8% drop for fixed income, currencies and commodities.

Credit Agricole’s listed asset management unit Amundi reported on Wednesday a strong rise in earnings helped by its retail business and expansion in Asia.

($1 = 0.8754 euros)

(Reporting by Julien Ponthus; Editing by Tom Hogue and Clarence Fernandez)