StanChart says performance to remain challenged

Standard Chartered Plc warned its income and profits would remain "challenged" in the first half of the year, after the Asia-focused bank on Wednesday reported its first drop in annual profits for a decade.

The London-listed bank, which makes 90 percent of its profit in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, had a torrid 2013 after a decade of record earnings and is under pressure to prove it can continue to generate strong profits in the face of a slowdown in key markets.

It cut its bonus pool for last year by 15 percent to 772 million pounds from 2012, with Sands' own bonus down 21 percent.

"Our outlook for 2014 is one of modest growth. Market and trading conditions are more volatile and difficult than a year ago," Chief Executive Peter Sands said in a statement. "Performance in the first half of 2014 will remain challenged both at an income and profit level."

The bank said its pretax profit was $7 billion in 2013, down 7 percent from the year before. It had warned in December profits would fall due to losses in Korea, weak investment banking income and a slowdown in Asia's economic growth.

The bank's shares were up 3.3 percent in early trade, having tumbled 28 percent in the last year, compared with a 19 percent rally by European banks as a whole .SX7P. The stock had fallen earlier this week to not far from its lowest point for the year so far.

Sands said the bank was targeting double-digit earnings growth as a "longer-term aspiration", given slower income growth generally and pressure in Korea market, where higher loans losses have prompted the bank to shrink its business, putting some units up for sale and axing hundreds of jobs.

The bank is selling businesses and emphasising cost control and Sands confirmed the bank was seeking buyers for a Hong Kong consumer finance business. The bank is also selling a consumer finance business in Korea.

Sands reorganised the bank's structure in January and on Wednesday identified private banking, trade finance and banking services for mid-sized corporates as three areas of focus. The bank plans to more than double its assets under management by 2020 to $300 billion.

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