AIB posts 10% hike in pre-tax profits to €699m

SCANDAL-WRACKED AIB Group hit back yesterday with a strong set of earnings figures to silence its detractors.

However the impressive earnings figures were marred by a €45 million charge to pay for the foreign exchange cover-up and other scams operated by the bank in the past.

In all, the bank has said, the total cost of investigations currently ongoing will be €50m this year.

Other investigations relate to the Faldor scandal where senior bankers had overseas accounts in order to evade tax.

Despite the distractions of the investigations AIB yesterday delivered results ahead of market expectations.

They showed strong growth across all its divisions and geographic areas.

As a result the bank posted pre-tax profits that were up 10% to €699m for the six months ended June 30, 2004.

Adjusted earnings per share rose 7% to 64.4c, while shareholders are to benefit from a 10% boost to their dividend income.

Stock markets reacted positively to the results and the shares rose 5c in early trading to €12.50.

Chief executive Michael Buckley said he was "pretty upbeat" about the results and forecast further strong growth in the second half.

Stressing he was not setting market guidelines for 2005, he said it was his ambition nevertheless to get back to double-digit earnings growth in the next financial year.

Driving the solid figures were strong income growth and significant increases in loans and deposits across the bank.

These were boosted by tight cost control resulting in income growing faster than costs.

AIB also described its asset base as very solid and its provision for bad and doubtful debts has been reduced rather than increased despite the strong lending across business and property, including the domestic mortgages front.

Divisional profit performance was up an average 13% for the six months.

Domestic profits were ahead by just 1% due to the €45m charge on the Republic of Ireland operations. Without that hit the underlying growth in profits was 16%. Elsewhere the figures show a 20% boost to profits in Britain and Northern Ireland over the period.

AIB Capital Markets were ahead 25% and in Poland, where the group has struggled, profits were up 163% based on local currency.

The figure dips to single digits in the conversion.

Overall currency differences knocked about 4% off the bottom line for the period under review, reflecting weakness in the dollar as well as the Polish zloty.

The only real negative from a profit perspective was Ark Life where low margin sales of the new PRSA product saw profits fall €2m to €24 million.

Ark Life is an issue still to be resolved with access to brokers a major unresolved quandary for the bank.

Other important highlights during the period were a 14% increase in lending and a 5% boost to deposits. Dolmen Stockbrokers sees limited potential in the shares despite the good performance.

Analyst Stuart Draper says the shares could rise to €13, but no higher.

Management's credibility is still an issue and the next IFSRA report could be damaging to the group.

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