Santander sees profits fall amid Brexit uncertainty


High street banking giant Santander has seen UK profits tumble 15% as the group cautioned over stiff competition and Brexit uncertainty.

The Spanish-owned lender reported UK underlying pre-tax profits of £1.39 billion for the first nine months of 2018, down from £1.64 billion a year earlier.

On a statutory basis, pre-tax profits fell 13% to £1.37 billion for the nine months, while they were down 8% year on year in the third quarter to £467 million.

Parent Banco Santander said the UK performance came amid a “highly competitive environment with some remaining uncertainties over Brexit”.

The UK arm has continued to see profit margins on mortgages come under pressure, while costs have also increased.

It also revealed the group is “co-operating” with a Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) investigation over deceased customer accounts.

The group’s quarterly results showed profits were hit by a 6% drop in net interest income after making less money on its mortgage book, which was only partially offset by stronger gross mortgage lending and cuts to its savings rates.

Net mortgage lending – gross loans less repayments – rose by £2.3 billion over the nine months, with gross mortgage lending of £21.3 billion against £18.3 billion a year earlier.

Santander has suffered after being hit by lower mortgage pricing and the loss of customers on standard variable rate deals.

Its customer savings balance fell £3.4 billion as it also trimmed its rates on deposits.

But the group saw an improvement in charges in the third quarter as it took no further hit from the payment protection insurance (PPI) mis-selling scandal, while there was also no extra provisions for failed outsourcer Carillion or troubled group Interserve, which had affected previous results.

For the full-year, Santander warned that its net mortgage lending will be “slightly below market growth” as it focuses on less risky business and retention.

Its net interest margin will also be lower for 2018, while costs for the year will be higher.

Santander UK chief executive Nathan Bostock said: “In an uncertain environment, we continue to control business growth, prioritising credit quality while delivering for our customers.”

He added: “Our results reflect competitive income pressures and higher regulatory project costs, as well as the impact of ring-fence transfers.”

Santander said it expects UK economic growth to improve slightly and inflation to continue easing.

It is pencilling in another quarter-point interest rate rise in the second half of 2019, from 0.75% to 1%.

The wider Banco Santander group posted a 1% rise in third quarter underlying profits to 1.99 billion euros (£1.8 billion) as a healthy performance in Brazil offset weaker trading in the UK and Argentina.

For the first nine months of the year, group-wide underlying profits rose 8% to 6.04 billion euros (£5.4 billion).