StanChart’s hotly awaited review gets muted investor response

A long-awaited plan from Standard Chartered Plc to cut costs and refine the emerging market lender’s geographic network fell flat.

The bank said on Tuesday it’s aiming to make $700 million in savings as part of a new three-year plan that it hopes will soothe concerns over lackluster returns. The announcement during its 2018 results also disclosed moves to restructure in some markets including India, United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and South Korea. Standard Chartered shares fell as much as 2.9 percent in early London trading.

“We had some dark days, and we felt them very acutely,” said Chief Executive Officer Bill Winters on a call with analysts.

Winters has been trying to show that he can revive longer-term earnings growth, though success will in part depend on how well he restructures operations. The share price has fallen around 41 percent since he took the helm in mid-2015. The bank earlier missed full-year profit targets, but signaled it expects to return capital to shareholders and deliver returns above 10 percent by 2021.

“Investors can prospectively look forward to higher capital return,” said analysts including Joseph Dickerson at Jefferies International Ltd. However, “we continue to believe that the revenue target is a challenge, particularly given commentary that 2019 has started down on 2018.”

Among the other targets announced by the bank:

Target CET1 ratio range of between 13 to 14 percent

Ordinary dividend per share has the potential to double by 2021

Standard Chartered’s underlying pretax profit in 2018 was up 28 percent $3.86 billion, compared with a $3.98 billion consensus forecast compiled by the bank. Full-year underlying operating income rose 5 percent to $14.97 billion, compared with forecasts of $15.02 billion.

The lender, which operates in 60 geographies, plans to “eliminate residual drags on returns from low-returning markets,” including India, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia, it said. Winters also said that its plans could include partnering with technology and e-commerce firms for retail banking.

The joint venture investment in Indonesia’s PT Bank Permata Tbk is no longer core, the bank said in its statement, signaling Winters may be preparing to dispose the stake.

The British lender said last week it’s taking a $900 million charge for the fourth-quarter to cover potential U.S. and U.K. penalties, including a 102 million pound ($133 million) fine from the British financial regulator related to its financial crime controls.

“I feel like we’re through the really hard restructuring that we needed to do to get the bank clean,” Winters said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “But, we know we have to take the next step to complete our journey to a 10 percent-plus return.”

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