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South African Bank Profits Under Pressure as Economy Wilts

The country’s moribund economy is dealing a hammer blow to the banks, which are facing profit declines of as much as 85%. The true extent of that pain will be laid bare when the lenders start releasing results next week in what is shaping up to be the worst earnings slump in at least 50 years. Africa’s most-industrialized nation was trapped in its longest downward cycle since World War II even before the coronavirus struck. A 30.1% unemployment rate, and little progress in reversing the malaise that threatens to push the economy to its deepest contraction in almost nine decades, is making it harder for consumers and businesses to repay loans and transact. The South African Reserve Bank in March eased capital rules for lenders to free up their balance sheets so they can better help customers with extra loans or by rescheduling existing credit. By the end of June, they had provided about ($1.8 billion in coronavirus-related relief, according to the Banking Association South Africa. Even if conditions deteriorate further, lenders are well armed to cope, with much more high-quality liquid assets to cover outflows than the regulator requires.