Westpac reports 25 per cent profit decline

Westpac has struggled amid the current market volatility to post a 25 per cent decrease in net first-half profit to $2.967 billion.

In an announcement released to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) today, the big banking group acknowledged a 31 per cent increase in impairment charges.

However the organisation preferred to point to its cash earnings, which increased by 1 per cent to $3.195 million. The company declared a record fully franked interim dividend of 82 cents a share.

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Commenting on the result, Westpac chief executive Gail Kelly described it as "sound in a challenging environment".

She said it reflected continued progress in building a stronger and more productive organisation, and noted that the highlight had been the strong performance of Westpac's two largest divisions - Westpac Retail and Business Banking and Westpac Institutional bank.

Kelly said St George Banking Group's earnings had been lower, but noted that the foundations were in place for improved performance, while Bank of Melbourne was showing good progress.

BT Financial Group had "solid operating momentum offset by the impact of softer asset markets and a weaker equities contribution".

Drilling down on the results, Kelly noted that penetration of insurance and wealth cross-sell had increased and was up 70 basis points to 17.7 per cent across the group.

Describing the outlook for the remainder of the financial year, Kelly said the global recovery remained fragile but that Australia's economic fundamentals remained sound, with low unemployment, controlled inflation and low levels of government debt.

However in similar fashion to ANZ chief Mike Smith, she pointed to structural change having impacted the financial services industry, and the consequent need for a strategic response.

Kelly said that from a growth perspective, Westpac was directing effort and investment to those sectors expected to generate higher growth and return outcomes.

She said these included wealth, deposits, natural resources, agriculture and trade finance.

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