Owing to the rising default in loan repayment forced by the Covid-19 pandemic and the declining economy that affected borrowers’ revenue inflow, First City Monument Bank (FCMB) faced an upsurge in credit loss expenses in the third quarter but its management waded through the strain and maintained the elevated profit performance it demonstrated at half-year. The situation which affected lenders globally also forced the bank’s net loan impairment expenses to rise to N5.6 billion quarter-on-quarter in the third quarter ended in September 2020. This pushed up the year-to-date loan loss expenses to more than N13 billion, jerking up the year-on-year rise from 41 per cent at half-year to over 70 per cent at the end of the period.
The resumption of new lending in 2019 after two years of break, occasioned by the Loan to Deposit Ratio (LDR) policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), appears to be fueling the rising asset losses. Last year, the bank grew the customer credit portfolio by 13 per cent and further growth of close to 11 per cent had happened at the end of the third quarter to N793 billion. The bank’s management is not letting the asset quality strain to impede the impressive growth record of the bottom line. Instead, it gained speed on profit growth from the half-year position to 30 per cent year-on-year at the end of the third quarter. FCMB is maintaining the path of growing profit for the third consecutive year though it has remained well below the peak profit figure of N22 billion attained as far back as 2014.
The bank maintained its earnings growth levers on the upbeat, spurred by a step up in interest earnings from 8 per cent growth at half year to 10 per cent increase year-on-year to N112 billion at the end of the third quarter. This was punctured by non-interest income, which shrank from 13 per cent increase at half-year to close flat at N34 billion at the end of September 2020.
Nevertheless, FCMB is still seeing the highest growth rate in revenue in four years in the current financial year. Interest income is growing at the highest rate in for the bank since 2014. At over N146 billion at the end of the third quarter, gross earnings improved by 7.8 per cent year-on-year, slowing down from over 9 per cent improvement at half-year. This remains the best revenue growth record for the bank in four years against a slight decline in 2019.
Interest cost extended its benign behaviour in the third quarter with a year-on-year decline stepping up from 3 per cent at half-year to roughly 4 per cent to close at N44 billion at the end of the third quarter. Improving interest income with declining in interest expenses are the favourable combination for FCMB in 2020. The share of interest income devoted to interest expenses went down from 45 per cent to 39 per cent over the review period. The positive effect is a top record growth of 21 per cent in net interest income to N66 billion at the end of the third quarter compared to less than 5 per cent improvement at the end of 2019.
The major increase in impairment loss on financial assets however did not let all the increase in net interest income get down into profit. Net loan impairment expenses rose by 70 per cent to over N13 billion at the end of September 2020. The expenses claimed nearly 20 per cent of net interest income against 14 per cent in the same period last year.
With the strength of improving revenue and declining interest expenses, FCMB was able to dilute the impact of rising credit loss expenses and still add some momentum to the bottom line. The bank closed the third quarter with an after-tax profit of roughly N14 billion, which is a year-on-year growth of 30 per cent – stepping up from 29 per cent record at half-year. Profit is accelerating this year from 16 per cent growth the bank recorded at the end of 2019. The ability to grow profit more than three times ahead of revenue underscores a gain in profit margin this year. Net profit margin improved from 7.9 per cent in the same period last year to 9.5 per cent at the end of the third quarter. This is the highest net profit margin the bank has seen since 2015. The strength came from cost saving from interest expenses and a moderated operating cost during the review period.
The improvement in interest income reflects the expansion of earning assets with loans and advances growing by N77 billion over the 2019 closing figure of N715 billion and investments rising by N64 billion to over N303 billion over the same period. Over the nine months of the year, it has grown the size of the balance sheet by N369 billion or 22 per cent to close at over N2 trillion – the strongest growth since 2012. Earnings per share amounted to 70 kobo at the end of the third quarter operations, improving from 54 kobo per share in the same period last year.
The Bank remains on track with our full-year expectation that it would retain the key strengths of growing revenue, moderating interest expenses and improving profit margin and stay the course of rebuilding profit for the third straight year in 2020.