5 Nov 2009

Westpac faulted for 'confusing' NZ figures

9:02 pm on 5 November 2009

A banking expert says the latest figures published by Westpac relating to its New Zealand operation are complicated and confusing, and don't necessarily tell the whole story.

The Australian-owned bank has not provided a net profit figure for its New Zealand operation, saying instead that its cash earnings line amounted to the same thing.

But similar figures from other banks have shown them to be different.

The director of the centre for banking studies at Massey University, David Tripe, says there are often discrepancies between the financial statements of New Zealand banks and their Australian parents.

Bad debts more than triple

The cash earnings of Westpac's New Zealand arm halved to $236 million, as bad debts more than tripled in the year ending September.

Operating income rose 4% to $1.6 billion but bad debts swelled to $572 million, more than three times last year's figure, due to the bank's large exposure to commercial property.

The bank's loan book grew just 4% - because of a weak housing market - while deposits rose 6%.

Overall, Westpac posted a profit of nearly $A3.5 billion, a fall of 11% on the previous year.

12 new branches planned by end of 2010

Westpac believes, however, that bad debts have peaked. Its New Zealand chief executive, George Franzis, says the bank is positioned for growth as the economy recovers.

It's opening three new branches before the end of the year and another nine by the end of 2010, he says, as well as employing 100 business bankers specialising in agriculture and small and medium businesses.