Unity Bank Plc’s audited result and accounts for financial year ended December 31, 2019, showed impressive performance as the lender migrated from two years’ consecutive losses to profitability and growth.
Despite the low yield environment during the period, the Bank was able to improve on its total operating income and reduced operating expenses to boost profitability.
After 2017 balance sheet clean up, the bank reported improved balance sheet growth with increases in lending to customers and improved deposits.
The Executive Director, Finance & Operations at Unity Bank, Ebenezer Kolawole at a virtual media briefing recently expressed that the significant increase in total assets in the last three years is great achievement for the management and staff of the bank.
According to him, “The growth of about 40 per cent in total asset is a great achievement and we also need to look at the bank’s assets base in the last three years.
“In 2017, we closed with total assets of N134 billion. In 2018, it grew to N210 billion and in 2019, we reported N293 billion total assets.”
For the first time in the past five years, the bank declared gross earnings of N44.59 billion and N293 billion total assets, thereby consolidating on the gains on the reforms instituted by the Bank to grow a healthy balance sheet for the past two years.
The bank has improved on its lending to the real sector with over N100 billion granted as loans and advances to customers in 2019.
The solid financial performance for the period ended December 31, 2019, affirms Unity Bank as one of the leading banks in terms of resilience and a transformed bank amid a challenging business environment in Nigeria.
The 2019 results revealed a number of positive performances as the management continued to reposition its stands on value creation for shareholders and improved on lending to the real sector to support the federal government’s drive to revive the nation’s economy.
Reduction in OPEX, Increase in Total Operating Income Drive Profits
Unity Bank for the period under review reported 28.7 per cent increase in gross earnings to N44.59 billion in 2019 from N34.65 billion reported in 2018.
The bank interest income also increased by 21.8 per cent to N35.95 billion in 2019 from N29.5 billion in 2018, over increasing interest generated from loans and advances to customers that moved from N17.64 billion in 2018 to N21.89 billion reported in 2019. Also. interest generated from placement from other banks moved from N361 million in 2018 to N632 million reported in 2019.
More so, interest expense grew by 25 per cent to N19.45 billion in 2019 from N15.5 billion reported in 2018, even as attributed higher bank charges closed 2019 at N10.12billion in 2019 as against N7.7 billion reported in 2018.
Continuing the trend during the year, Net interest Income was stronger in 2019, gaining 18.1 per cent to N16.49 billion in 2019 from N13.97 billion in 2018.
In terms of fees generated from banking operations, the lender reported N4.98 billion net fee and commission income in 2019 from N2.3 billion reported in 2018, an increase of 11.3 per cent.
The Bank improved on its Electronic transactions amid gaining more customers and rolling out more ATMs and POS at strategic locations across the country.
Kolawole explained that “in agriculture, we have over 1.5 million farmers in our primary production that banked with us and the number continued to grow as we speak.”
For the year under review, Unity Bank reported a 31.5 per cent increase in total operating income to N25.13 billion in 2019 from N19.11 billion reported in 2018.
On the cost side, total Operating Expenses (Opex) dropped by 5.5 per cent to N19.6 billion, as against N20.7 billion in 2018, which is below average inflation rate within the period, a reflection of cost-efficiency gains.
The Bank had embarked on several cost minimization initiatives that have continued to yield positive results as personal expenses dropped to N9.43 billion in 2019 from N9.98 billion reported in 2018 while other operating expenses moved to N8.37 billion in 2019 from N9.35 billion in 2018.
Kolawole speaking on cost said, “We have tried to reduce our cost because that is within our control. We have tried to make sure we do not have any waste at all. We make sure where our money is going to, money is coming back to the bank.
“This has contributed to improved cost to income ratio of Unity bank and it has helped us showcase our impressive 2019 financial year performance.”
Notwithstanding the challenging business environment in Nigeria, the Bank’s Profit Before Tax was impressive at N3.64 billion, compared to a loss of N7.55 billion reported in the 2018 financial year.
Furthermore, the Profit After Tax closed positive in 2019, reporting N3.38 billion in 2019 compared to a loss of N7.7 billion reported in 2018.
Stronger Assets Amid CBN Lending Policy
Unity bank closed the year with a 39 per cent increase in total assets to N293 billion from N210 billion in 2018 following an impressive performance in gross loans and advances to customers and customers’ deposits.
Kolawole said: “We have been able to move our loan trajectory. We have also been able to move from N9 billion in 2017 to N44 billion in 2018. It also increased to N104 billion in 2019.
“Between 2018 and 2019, we have about 104 per cent growth in our loans and that has helped us deliver value and meet the expectation of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in terms of Loan-to-Deposit ratio.”
He explained further that “we have supported key real sector most especially the agriculture sector despite the low yield, we are proud of ourselves for supporting that sector.
“We made sure to give attention to the production of rice, maize among others. We partnered with the farmers to deliver excellent services to the agriculture sector.”
The CBN had mandated commercial banks to lend 65 per cent of the deposit to support real sectors of the economy and Unity Bank last year did a loan of about N104 billion, 136 per cent increase over N44 billion reported in 2018.
Unity Bank’s Customers’ deposits also rose by 104 per cent to N257.69 billion in 2019 from N126.21 billion reported in 2018.
Kolawole further noted that customers’ savings continued to improve on a daily basis as the management continued to deliver products that meet the savings needs of Nigerians.
“To be able to win more savers in this magnitude, it takes a lot of effort. We delivered customer-centric products that met their needs.”
This reflected increased customer confidence, enhanced customer experience early wins from the ongoing business transformation programme and the deepening of its retail banking franchise.
Market Confidence in Our Repositioning Efforts – CEO
Commenting on the Bank’s performance, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Unity Bank, Mrs. Tomi Somefun said that “the potential in many aspects of the business as reflected in the growing balance sheet of the Bank is indicative of market confidence in our repositioning efforts”.
“It is also noteworthy that playing in the Agriculture Sector as part of growth strategy and as bulwarks to drive value chain businesses in many segments of the retail market have continued to pay off. Looking ahead, we shall consolidate on the gains in the agribusiness, capitalizing on the growing profile in the sector, whilst also focusing on the youth market with increased investment in digital banking,” she further stated.
According to her, “the quest to deepen our retail play will go hand in hand with our focus on digital innovations. Already, we have deployed USSD banking, carried out augmentation of the platform to introduce local languages and further drive financial inclusion and had also launched omnichannel to cater to all segments of the banking public, especially the underbanked. In the coming years, the Bank will be opening more channels and bundled products bouquet for identified cluster initiatives and also leverage and expand relationships with other partners to drive more growth in earnings and profits.”
Meanwhile, the Bank has concluded arrangements to launch a healthcare product called UnityCare to tap into credit support intervention scheme for the Health sector being rolled out by Central Bank of Nigeria as stimulus packages to support the indigenous pharmaceutical companies and healthcare practitioners that hope to build and expand capacity.
The new UnityCare product will thus cater to improve access to affordable credits by players, reduce medical tourism and conserve foreign exchange as well as provide long-term, low-cost financing for healthcare infrastructural development, healthcare product manufacturing, healthcare services and pharmaceutical/medical product distribution and logistics services.
As the Bank’s Executive Director, Finance & Operations, Mr. Ebenezer Kolawole said Unity Bank made these tremendous gains despite the tough operating environment occasioned by the numerous challenges the Nigerian economy witnessed in 2019, coupled with several regulatory headwinds.
“We were able to build our capacity to drive our momentum just to make sure we delivered value. Our challenge was to keep the value up because we were in a capital raising mood and we gave everything to deliver value to our partners,” Kolawole said.
He added: “Overall, it has been a very fantastic year for us as we make sure we have strong liquidity that meets the expectation of CBN and customers. Our capital raising exercise is on course and we’ll make sure all the necessary dots are put in place.”
Analysts are of the view that many things will continue to play in favour of the Bank. Some of these include the sustained effort of the Bank in the area of Agribusiness, the increasing attention of Government and other Agencies in the agriculture sector and the growing interest of the youths in the agribusiness, among others.
Oil markets need airlines to resume
Now we have Oil markets leeching on a relatively insignificant demand for travel.
Summer 2020 is here, and without the interference of COVID-19, this would have been one of the busiest summers in history. For the first time, we had a European Soccer Tournament hosted across different countries in Europe. Spain, Holland, Romania, Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, England, Russia, and a few countries, to mention a few, are all in line to host the world for this spectacular tournament. Many people (including myself) were planning on trips to Europe to watch some of the tournament’s exciting games. Another tournament scheduled to hold in Tokyo this summer was the 2020 Olympics. Think about what that would have meant for the Asian markets. Think about the demands that would have generated across the board.
The Dubai Expo 2020, a once in a lifetime event, was going to be the largest ever celebration hosted in the Emirates. The event was primed to welcome 190 participating countries and millions of visitors from across other continents. Think about tourism to Dubai usually, think about tourism to Dubai if this event were to hold (without COVID-19), and now think of it not even holding at all.
The demand for travel was primed to reach its zenith this year. That would have meant a lot for the aviation industry, airlines, and, most importantly, Oil markets. Now we have Oil markets leeching on a relatively insignificant demand for travel. Jet fuel demand averages about 8 million barrels per day. As a result of the pandemic, The International Energy Agency expects demand for jet fuel and kerosene to fall by 2.1 million bpd on average in 2020.
According to an article in Reuters, Per Magnus Nysveen, Head of Analysis at Rystad Energy said, “Jet fuel consumption will be impacted for a longer time and maybe not recover fully even next year. The reason is that travelers remain concerned about long-haul vacations, and businesses get used to online meetings”.
We are now faced with a travel industry that is more precautionary of a virus, so this means fewer travels and social distancing in aircraft. Although a few people are acting oblivious to the pandemic by carrying on with their summer plans, travels are still below pre-pandemic levels. American Airlines and United Airlines have also decided to ditch social distancing, as seen in an article on Forbes. American Airlines said in its press statement last week.
“As more people continue to travel, customers may notice that flights are booked to capacity starting July 1. American will continue to notify customers and allow them to move to more open flights when available, all without incurring any cost,” Nysveen added.
Albeit, that statement caused a lot of criticism from some members of the public, it is evident the airline is trying to salvage some revenue after the dilapidating effect the pandemic had on the airline industry just as the pandemic hurt Oil markets.
Now the Oil markets need airlines to rally. In the diagram below, some resistance is formed above the $43 mark, albeit worries over a second wave of the coronavirus surfacing in most American cities. A massive sell-off happened at Wall Street last week on the back of these concerns. The Oil bulls need momentum to reach the $50 price level, and that would only be possible if airlines resume in full capacity.
The markets have reached their current levels on the backdrop of OPEC production cut and hopes of a reopening economy. If airlines begin to operate pre-pandemic capacity, we would be in store for a rally in prices. But when would airlines begin operating at pre-pandemic capacity? That remains the question the Oil markets have no answer to.
Why Insurance firms are selling off their PFAs
It has not been uncommon over the years to have insurance companies with pension subsidiaries.
The idea of mitigating risks and curtailing losses at the bare minimum begins from the insurance industry and only crosses into the pension space with the need for retirement planning. For this reason, it has not been uncommon over the years to have insurance companies with pension subsidiaries. However, controlling the wealth of people is no easy feat – and crossover companies are beginning to think it might not be worth it competing with the big guns; that is, the pension fund administrators (PFAs) that already cater to the majority of Nigerians.
A few months ago, AXA Mansard Insurance Plc announced that its shareholders have approved the company’s plan to sell its pension management subsidiary, AXA Mansard Pensions Ltd, as well as a few undisclosed real estate investments. It did not provide any reason for the divestment. More recently, AIICO Insurance Plc also let go of majority ownership in its pension arm, AIICO Pension Managers Ltd. FCMB Pensions Ltd announced its plans to acquire 70% stakes in the pension company, while also acquiring an additional 26% stake held by other shareholders, ultimately bringing the proposed acquisition to a 96% stake in AIICO Pension. The reason for the sell-off by AIICO does not also appear to be attributed to poor performance as the group’s profit in 2019 had soared by 88% driven by growth across all lines of business within the group.
So why are they selling them off?
Pension Fund Administration is, no doubt, a competitive landscape. Asides the wealth of the over N10 trillion industry, there is also the overarching advantage that pension contributors do not change PFAs regularly. Therefore, making it hard to compete against the big names and industry leaders that have been in the game for decades – the kinds of Stanbic IBTC, ARM, Premium Pension, Sigma, and FCMB. Of course, the fact that PFAs also make their money through fees means the bigger the size, the more money you make. With pressure to capitalize mounting, insurance firms will most likely spin off as they just don’t have the right focus, skills, and talents to compete.
The recent occurrence of PENCOM giving contributors the opportunity to switch from one PFA to another might have seemed like the perfect opportunity for the smaller pension companies to increase their market shares by offering better returns. More so, with the introduction of more aggrieved portfolios in the multi-fund structure comprising of RSA funds 1, 2, & 3, PFAs can invest in riskier securities and enhance their returns. However, the reality of things is that the smaller PFAs don’t have what it takes to effectively market to that effect. With the gains being made from the sector not particularly extraordinary, it is easier for them to employ their available resources into expanding their core business. There is also the fact that their focus now rests on meeting the new capital requirements laced by NAICOM. Like Monopoly, the next smart move is to sell underperforming assets just to keep their head above water.
Olasiji Omotayo, Head of Risk in a leading pension fund administrator, explained that “Most insurance businesses selling their pension subsidiaries may be doing so to raise funds. Recapitalization is a major challenge now for the insurance sector and the Nigerian Capital Market may not welcome any public offer at the moment. Consequently, selling their pension business may be their lifeline at the moment. Also, some may be selling for strategic reasons as it’s a business of scale. You have a lot of fixed costs due to regulatory requirements and you need a good size to be profitable. If you can’t scale up, you can also sell if you get a good offer.”
What the future holds
With the smaller PFAs spinning off, the Pension industry is about to witness the birth of an oligopoly like the Tier 1 players in the Banking sector. Interestingly, the same will also happen with Insurance. The only real issue is that we will now have limited choices. In truth, we don’t necessarily need many of them as long all firms remain competitive. But there is the risk that the companies just get comfortable with their population growth-induced expansion while simply focusing on low-yielding investments. The existence of the pandemic as well as the really low rates in the fixed-income market is, however, expected to propel companies to seek out creative ways to at least keep up with the constantly rising rate of inflation.
Nigerian Banks expected to write off 12% of its loans in 2020
The Nigerian banking system has been through two major asset quality crisis.
The Nigerian Banking Sector has witnessed a number of asset management challenges owing largely to macroeconomic shocks and, sometimes, its operational inefficiencies in how loans are disbursed. Rising default rates over time have led to periodic spikes in the non-performing loans (NPLs) of these institutions and it is in an attempt to curtail these challenges that changes have been made in the acceptable Loan to Deposit (LDR) ratios, amongst others, by the apex regulatory body, CBN.
Projections by EFG Hermes in a recent research report reveal that as a result of the current economic challenges as well as what it calls “CBN’s erratic and unorthodox policies over the past five years,” banks are expected to write off around 12.3% of their loan books in constant currency terms between 2020 and 2022, the highest of all the previous NPL crisis faced by financial institutions within the nation.
Note that Access Bank, FBN Holdings, Guaranty Trust Bank, Stanbic IBTC, United Bank for Africa and Zenith Bank were used to form the universe of Nigerian banks by EFG Hermes.
Over the past twelve years, the Nigerian banking system has been through two major asset quality crisis. The first is the 2009 to 2012 margin loan crisis and the other is the 2014 to 2018 oil price crash crisis.
The 2008-2012 margin loan crisis was born out of the lending institutions giving out cheap and readily-available credit for investments, focusing on probable compensation incentives over prudent credit underwriting strategies and stern risk management systems. The result had been a spike in NPL ratio from 6.3% in 2008 to 27.6% in 2009. The same crash in NPL ratio was witnessed in 2014 as well as a result of the oil price crash of the period which had crashed the Naira and sent investors packing. The oil price crash had resulted in the NPL ratio spiking from 2.3% in 2014 to 14.0% in 2016.
Using its universe of banks, the NPL ratio spiked from an average of 6.1% in 2008 to 10.8% in 2009 and from 2.6% in 2014 to 9.1% in 2016. During both cycles, EFG Hermes estimated that the banks wrote-off between 10-12% of their loan book in constant currency terms.
The current situation
Given the potential macro-economic shock with real GDP expected to contract by 4%, the Naira-Dollar exchange rate expected to devalue to a range of 420-450, oil export revenue expected to drop by as much as 50% in 2020 and the weak balance sheet positions of the regulator and AMCON, the risk of another significant NPL cycle is high. In order to effectively assess the impact of these on financial institutions, EFG Hermes modelled three different asset-quality scenarios for the banks all of which have their different implications for banks’ capital adequacy, growth rates and profitability. These cases are the base case, lower case, and upper case.
Base Case: The company’s base case scenario, which they assigned a 55% probability, the average NPL ratio and cost of risk was projected to increase from an average of 6.4% and 1.0% in 2019 to 7.6% and 5.3% in 2020 and 6.4% and 4.7% in 20201, before declining to 4.9% and 1.0% in 2024, respectively. Based on its assumptions, they expect banks to write-off around 12.3% of their loan books in constant currency terms between 2020 and 2022, a rate that is marginally higher than the average of 11.3% written-off during the previous two NPL cycles. Under this scenario, estimated ROE is expected to plunge from an average of 21.8% in 2019 to 7.9% in 2020 and 7.7% in 2021 before recovering to 18.1% in 2024.
Lower or Pessimistic Case: In its pessimistic scenario which has a 40% chance of occurrence, the company projects that the average NPL ratio will rise from 6.4% in 2019 to 11.8% in 2020 and 10.0% in 2021 before moderating to 4.9% by 2024. It also estimates that the average cost of risk for its banks will peak at 10% in 2020 and 2021, fall to 5.0% in 2022, before moderating from 2023 onwards. Under this scenario, banks are expected to write off around as much as 26.6% of their loan books in constant currency terms over the next three years. Average ROE of the banks here is expected to drop to -8.8% in 2020, -21.4% in 2021 and -2.9% in 2022, before increasing to 19.7% in 2024.
Upper or optimistic case: In a situation where the pandemic ebbs away and macro-economic activity rebounds quickly, the optimistic or upper case will hold. This, however, has just a 5% chance of occurrence. In this scenario, the company assumes that the average NPL ratio of the banks would increase from 6.4% in 2019 to 6.8% in 2020 and moderate to 4.8% by 2024. Average cost of risk will also spike to 4.2% in 2020 before easing to 2.4% in 2021 and average 0.9% thereafter through the rest of our forecast period. Finally, average ROE will drop to 11.6% in 2020 before recovering to 14.4% in 2021 and 19.0% in 2024.
With the highest probabilities ascribed to both the base case and the pessimistic scenario, the company has gone ahead to downgrade the rating of the entire sector to ‘Neutral’ with a probability-weighted average ROE (market cap-weighted) of 13.7% 2020 and 2024. The implication of the reduced earnings and the new losses from written-off loans could impact the short to medium term growth or value of banking stocks. However, in the long term, the sector will revert to the norm as they always do.