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NIB to stay course despite losing €2bn in just two years

NATIONAL Irish Bank yesterday insisted it remained "committed" to the Irish market despite suffering losses of almost €2bn in two years.

The commentary came as the bank's owner Danske revealed that National Irish Bank (NIB) lost €617m last year after booking impairment charges of €667m.

NIB's losses are far from the worst in the Irish market but they're a significant drain on a banking group that booked pretax profits of €865m last year.

"The bank remains committed to the Irish market and is fully supported by a very strong parent," NIB chief executive Andrew Healy said yesterday.

While stopping short of definitively predicting a better result in 2011, Mr Healy said there was evidence of a "downward trend" in impairments which peaked at €221m in the second quarter of 2010 and came in at €163m in quarter four.

The bank's impairments have been driven by its €3.3bn commercial property book so experience there may stabilise as the property market improves.

Mr Healy said NIB's €3.5bn mortgage loan portfolio "remains relatively strong" with fewer than 300 customers in arrears, but that loan demand was poor across mortgages and commercial lending with the bank's loan book contracting from €10.3bn to €9.4bn.

"We expect demand from business customers to pick up this year," he said, pointing out the export-led recovery already under way.

NIB enjoyed a 28pc surge in deposits last year -- Mr Healy said there was no reason this rally should be affected by the precedent set earlier in the week when a Danish bank collapsed and depositors lost out.

"It would be entirely wrong to make any suggestion that Danske is anything other than extremely strong," he said, pointing to the bank's top quartile finish in the summer's EU-wide stress tests.

The first €100,000 of all NIB's deposits is also guaranteed, giving its depositors the same protection as those who put money into Irish banks.

"There was probably some undue alarm about deposits in the market last year," Mr Healy said. "There's a guarantee across all the banks and there's an onus on all banks to behave responsibly and not to stoke up unnecessary alarm."

The NIB boss acknowledged that he couldn't "take for granted" that depositors would stay with his bank once the fears about Irish institutions dissipated but he hinted NIB would not be a prospective buyer for the €14bn Irish Nationwide/ Anglo Irish Bank deposit book that's being auctioned.

"That's not something I can comment on," he said, "but we are under no pressure to acquire business from other banks, our general approach is to grow organically."

Yesterday's results also showed a 16pc fall in NIB's cost to €113m as the bank cut staff and branches.

Asked about future cost initiatives, Mr Healy said the "heavy lifting" had been done.

Irish Independent