Johannesburg - South Africa’s top two lenders said on Thursday they expect profits to rise by around 20%, in the latest sign that banks in SA are back on the road to recovery after a 2009 recession suppressed credit demand. Standard Bank Group [JSE:SBK], Africa’s biggest lender by assets, said its full-year diluted headline earnings per share (EPS) likely grew by between 18 and 22%, in line with the 19.5% average increase in a survey of 13 analysts by Reuters. Smaller rival FirstRand [JSE:FSR] said its diluted normalised EPS grew by 24-28% in the six-month period to end-December. Johannesburg-based Standard Bank, which is 20% owned by Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, will report its results on March 8. FirstRand’s announcement is scheduled for February 28. South African banks have been helped by steady declines in bad debts, which surged during the 2009 recession. However, demand for credit still remains muted. Standard Bank said in January that it lent 50% more to its South African personal and business customers in 2011. Smaller rival Absa Group posted a 21% increase in full-year profit earlier this month. Standard Bank said on Wednesday it would be cooperating with Japan’s second-largest lender by assets Mizuho Financial Group on bringing more Japanese clients to Africa, confirming an earlier Reuters report. Shares of Standard Bank, which has operations in at least 17 sub-Saharan countries, are up over 10% so far this year and those of FirstRand have gained 9.6%.