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BANKING

Asia 100 2002: Australia and Korea lead as others struggle

In this year's Asian 100 the notable profitability of the top Australian banks reflects an economy that has outperformed most of the world. Among its neighbours, some Korean banks put on an impressive growth spurt as the economy recovered.

South Korea growing into a major Asian influence.

NATIONAL AUSTRALIA BANK (5) is the most profitable bank in this year's Asian 100 table, reporting 78.8% growth to $1.8 billion in 2002. Results included contributions from Michigan National Bank and the troubled HomeSide US mortgage business, both of which have since been sold. NAB has been keen to expand through acquisition and already owns nearly 10% of St George Bank (28), Australia's fifth-largest bank. NAB CEO Frank Ciccuto has not ruled out making a bid after 10-year old articles protecting St George from takeover lapsed in July. In early October 2002 UK mortgage bank Abbey National, a potential distribution base for products from NAB subsidiary MLC in the UK, rejected a friendly takeover offer by NAB.

All four of the biggest Australian banks made profits of more than $1.2 billion net last year. The Australian economy stood up well last year to the global slowdown, which had adversely affected the economies of its trading neighbours in Asia. GDP growth averaged 4.1% in 2001, 10 times the OECD and G7 averages. The housing market remained buoyant, and business fixed investment levels were sustained.

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