Johannesburg - South African consumers will continue facing tougher economic conditions as the financial crisis bites, says Absa.
In announcing its financial results for the year to end-December, the banking group said: "Global recessionary conditions are expected to persist in the near term and heightened risk aversion and reduced capital flows to emerging markets are likely to continue in 2009."
Analysts have been closely watching the Absa results for guidance around the South African banking sector earnings as well as a proxy for local consumers who remain heavily in debt.
The group on Monday reported an increase of 10.4% in attributable earnings for the year ended December 31 2008 from R9.6bn to R10.6bn, with headline earnings increasing by 5.3% from R9.4bn to R9.9bn.
Dividends for the year were increased by 6.3% increase to 595 cents per share.
Absa Group CEO Steve Booysen said: "Absa delivered a sound financial performance in a year characterised by significant global financial market turbulence and challenging macroeconomic conditions in South Africa.
"Proactive credit management, effective cost discipline and growth within the investment and commercial banking businesses underpinned the group's performance. These results bear testimony to the successful implementation of our strategy to diversify earnings, maintain asset quality and manage costs."
Analysts have been closely watching the performance of investment banking arm Absa Capital, which boosted earnings significantly in the previous year.
Absa Capital reported a 29.8% increase in earnings to R2.2bn. The company said: "This performance was driven by exceptional growth in the secondary markets and good growth in the Primary Markets business units."
Arrears on the up
Bad debts and non-performing loans are to be closely watched in all the banking groups.
The group said: "Therefore, the group expects business volumes, particularly in the retail bank, to decline and arrears and non-performing loans to increase."
The retail banking division saw a 25% decrease in earnings over the period.
According to the bank retail impairments increased sharply by 158.9% to R5.6bn, attributable to continued financial pressure on the consumer and declining asset values, particularly in the second half of the year.
Absa rose in early trade on Monday morning, adding 1.6% (158c) to R100.58.