The shine continues to rub off Australia’s big four banks and their reputations; this time it’s bad debts and earnings at ANZ in the limelight. In fact, there are more troubles for ANZ, with a further blowout in its bad debts for the first half to nearly double what they were a year ago, raising the very real prospect of a profit fall for the six months to March 31 and threatening the bank’s 86 cents a share dividend. The news will hit bank shares today, especially for ANZ; its shares are down 8% so far this year, and more than 31% in the past year.

ANZ has earned its “bad bank” tag with a combination of weak banking culture, performance and process, and now that is hitting the bank’s financial performance, and profits, hard. The bank told the ASX this morning that it had been hit by a 12%-plus blowout in its bad debt provision for the six months to March 31 (the bank balances its first half a week today). It told the ASX this morning that an increase in soured, or souring, loans in the resources sector was behind the rise.

This was after the shock surge in bad debts slipped out in the first-half trading update in February, when there was a jump in the estimated amount to $800 million or more. Now it’s $900 million and heading for $1 billion, meaning the bank is on track to report a slide in profits for the first half of 2015-16. That would be almost double the $510 million reported for the first half of 2014-15.

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And investors will figure that if the ANZ can be hit by rising bad debts among local resource companies, then the likes of the Commonwealth, Westpac and NAB can’t escape either.

This shock comes on top of the ASIC court action against the bank due to claims that some of its traders tried to rig a key market interest rate. ASIC fined the bank more than $220,000 for breaches of financial advice regulations. The bank has ordered an independent review of its insurance and superannuation arm, OnePath, after a series of breaches affecting 1.3 million customers — some of whom had their super paid into the wrong account for up to a year. The review was ordered after ASIC raised concerns about compliance at the OnePath division. The breaches, including those that did not require monetary remediation, total $53.5 million and occurred between early 2013 and mid-2015. ANZ has had to pay $4.5 million in compensation and refunds to its customers over the breaches. And ANZ and its Melbourne rival, National Australia Bank, are reviewing their life insurance businesses in the wake of the Commonwealth’s CommInsure scandal.

And then there’s the shake-out from a number of wobbling local companies such as Arrium, Dick Smith, McAleese Corporation and Clive Palmer’s nickel business in north Queensland (whoever owns it this week). And there’s the growing possibility that Australia’s big four banks, including ANZ, will soon have to start providing more for impaired and dodgy loans in the weakening New Zealand dairy sector, where they are the major lenders.


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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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