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Bank settlement opportunities soar
By Xu Dashan (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-04-23 08:41

Bank of China, the country's largest foreign exchange bank, said yesterday its international settlement business grew more than 50 per cent during the first quarter.

The bank, which plans to go public next year, said it handled US$79.7 billion worth of international settlement business during the January-March period, an increase of US$26.7 billion or 50.31 per cent from a year ago.

In March alone, the bank handled US$29.7 billion worth of such business, a record in a single month.

During the three months till March, the bank also conducted trade-related financing business worth US$4.1 billion, an increase of 87.63 per cent.

The fast growth in the two businesses helped bring in more income for Bank of China.

The bank earned US$1.5 billion from the two businesses during the first quarter, an increase of 39.78 per cent.

Spokesman Wang Zhaowen said the two businesses were important segments of the bank's non-interest business, which the bank plans to develop in the coming years.

"Development of non-interest business is vital for increasing the competitiveness of Bank of China," he said.

The bank said earlier it earned 17.4 billion yuan (US$2.1 billion) in operating profit during the first quarter, a year-on-year increase of 28 per cent compared with the same period last year.

By the end of March, the bank's non-performing credit ratio was 14.84 per cent, a drop of 1.44 percentage points.

More profits are badly needed by Bank of China, said Wang Zhao, a researcher with the State Council's Development Research Centre.

China's big-four State-owned banks will have to sharpen their competitive edge before foreign banks can enter the Chinese market without restrictions at the end of 2005.

"They will have to lower the rate of non-performing loans (NPLs), get rid of historical financial burdens and raise their capital adequacy to international standards," Wang said.

The profits would not only help Bank of China increase its capital adequacy, but also help it write off the NPLs quickly, Wang said.

Spokesman Zhu Min said Bank of China aimed to trim its NPL rate to 6 per cent by the end of this year.

"We aim to meet international standards for capital adequacy, bad loan provisions and bank liquidity by the end of this year," he said.

The bank also plans to issue up to 60 billion yuan (US$7.23 billion) in sub-ordinate bonds to increase its capital adequacy before the planned initial public offering.

Bank of China and China Construction Bank, which won a US$45 billion bail-out from the government in late December, were chosen by the central government as a pilot project to turn them into joint stock banks.

Wang Zhaowen said his bank is speeding up the process of choosing strategic investors.

"We are talking with a number of overseas investors about the sale," he said.

The strategic investors should be able to bring in advanced management experiences and improve the bank's corporate governance, he said.

"Work on Bank of China's share-holding reform has gone smoothly so far this year," Wang said.

The bank is busy reshuffling its business, organization structure, management procedure, information technology and human resources.

The focus for restructuring is to make the bank's services more market-oriented and customer-centred, he said.

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