Ulster Bank has refused to rule out further sales of distressed mortgage loans to vulture funds despite a school of thought emerging that such transactions could end under a Sinn Féin or Fianna Fáil led government.

Late last year the bank announced the sale of around â'¬800m worth of non-performing mortage loans to US vulture fund CarVal Investors.

That deal, when it finally closes - roughly around the third quarter of this year - will bring the percentage of problem loans on Ulster Bank's lending books to approximately 5%, which would be in and around EU banking targets.

The bank closed 2019 with non-performing loans forming slightly less than 10% of its overall loan book.

Speaking on the back of a solid set of annual results, Ulster Bank chief executive Jane Howard said no further loan sales are planned, but the option isn't off the table.

"You can never rule it out, but the priority and the focus is helping customers get onto a sustainable solution. That's good for us, as it keeps the income [stream], and it's good for the customer."

"Our priority won't change. We will continue to help people get onto a sustainable solution. But, you do have to run a bank safely, and we don't want high non-performing loans," Ms Howard said.

This week, mortgage debt advocate David Hall predicted "the end of the road" for vulture fund loan purchases in light of the election result.

"We can only run the bank and control what we can control, but we'll work with whichever government is in power in line with regulation," Ms Howard said.

Ulster Bank saw its operating profit surge to â'¬55m last year, from â'¬15m in 2018. Total income fell from â'¬689m to â'¬647m, partially due to a reduction in non-performing loan income.

Regarding the ongoing tracker mortgage scandal, Ms Howard said Ulster has made all of its redress and compensation payments and has no outstanding issues.

"We're not in dispute on trackers; there are no new or additional provisions. The appeals process is, obviously, still ongoing and as we get individual cases we'll deal with those," she said.

Ulster's tracker costs have topped â'¬312m to date, with half of that covering project costs and half customer compensation. An undisclosed provision for a still to be decided Central Bank fine has been set.

Ulster's gross new lending increased by 13% to â'¬3bn last year, with mortgage lending up 18% and business lending jumping 6%. The bank's share of the Irish mortgage market increased from 13% to 14.6% last year. Ms Howard said that the lender is "on plan" to grow mortgage market share further this year.

"We have built strong foundations, but our performance doesn't yet match its full potential,"she said.

Ulster Bank's parent Royal Bank of Scotland reported a better-than-expected pre-tax profit of £4.2bn (â'¬5bn) for 2019, with new CEO Alison Rose setting out a strategy around closer links to small business and improved climate awareness.

RBS is also cutting back its loss-making investment bank and renaming the group NatWest.

The British lender’s profit was 24% higher than 2018 and above the £3.8bn average of analysts’ forecasts compiled by the bank.

Ulster paid RBS a further dividend of â'¬500m last year.

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