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Opinion

The flies in the ointment in Singapore bank results

Results week showed record profits at Singapore’s banks – but all three institutions had footnotes in the numbers that we should pay attention to.

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The full-year results of the three Singaporean banks tell us plenty about the challenges that are facing institutions in the shadow of the US-China trade war.

Singapore was always likely to be a bellwether for the impact of issues in global trade. It is the ultimate hub, for everything from shipping to private banking; it is a place of ease through which things both physical and virtual move. Any dent in the willingness of people to transact is going to hit Singapore. So is any slowdown in China.

There is no reason for alarm yet. All three banks recorded impressive full-year net profit growth in 2018: OCBC by 11% to S$4.49 billion; DBS by 28% to S$5.625 billion; and UOB by 18% to S$4.01 billion. All three are record figures. Only one of the three – OCBC – registered a decline in fourth quarter numbers year-on-year.

But each result has something in the background reflecting a more challenging environment.

At DBS, it was the treasury markets division, where income declined 21% year-on-year, and where fourth quarter income halved to S$92 million, the lowest figure on record.


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