Australian Banks Make Good
'Big Three Bank $5m Every Day' The Weekend-Bulletin, 6/5/2000

THREE of Australia's four biggest banks each made a profit of more than $5.8 million a day in the record-breaking six months to March 31. Although they do not like to show it in their accounts, huge increases in transaction fees and charges helped bring home a lot of bacon.

Westpac yesterday unveiled a 16.7 per cent jump in net profit to $818 million for the half year.

The National Australia Bank lifted its variable home loan rate by 0.25 percentage points to 7.80 per cent, effective from May 8, and St George Bank lifted its standard variable home loan rate from 7.55 to 7.8 per cent, effective yesterday.

The Reserve Bank said interest rate rises were officially on hold, provided there was no further slump in the dollar and the GST did not cause a wages blowout.

"Tax effects aside, and on the assumption that there are no second-round impacts of the tax package or further large falls in the exchange rate, the bank expects that the recent policy changes should keep inflation within the 2 to 3 per cent target range over the coming year to 18 months," it said.

Westpac's result pipped ANZ Banking Group's $817 million profit announced on Monday which saw a 14 per cent increase on the six months to March 1999.

Both trailed NAB, which on Thursday reported a massive $1.57 billion net profit, up 13.2 per cent on the same period last year.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, ended its first half on December 1999 with an 18 per cent jump in net profit to $840 million. In light of their record earnings, the banks are understandably sensitive to criticism about their retail transaction fees. So much so that they do not like to list them as a separate item.

Westpac listed 'transaction fees and commissions' at $498 million for the period, up $65 million. ANZ earned $561 million from 'other' fee income 'including commissions', up from $491 million.

NAB, the country's most profitable bank, listed 'fees commissions' at $515 million, up from $471 million.

Remember, these amounts are for only the first six months of the financial year.

Aussie Home Loans managing director John Symond yesterday accused the banks of 'excessively charging Australian consumers'.

Mr Symond said banks had increased their reliance on fee income after being forced to reduce margins on their home loans to stay competitive, following the entry of mortgage originators such as Aussie Home Loans.

"It is obviously better to be a shareholder of the banks than a customer," he said.

Shares in all the major banks closed much higher yesterday. NAB soared 83.6 cents to $24.47, its best close since November 3. Commonwealth jumped 70.2 cents to $26.30, Westpac surged 52 cents to $10.95 and ANZ skipped ahead 28.1 cents to $l1,641.