South African lender FirstRand posts 6% rise in half-year profit

Adds results details

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 29 (Reuters) - South Africa's FirstRand Ltd FSRJ.J on Thursday posted a 6% rise in first-half earnings, driven by good topline growth, particularly net interest income.

Its normalised earnings rose to 19.1 billion rand (about $993 million) in the six months ending Dec. 31 from 17.9 billion rand a year earlier, the bank said.

FirstRand, the country's largest lender by market value, announced an interim dividend of 200 cents per share for the reporting period, an increase of 6% from a year earlier.

The top five private South African banks - among the continent's biggest - are generally considered well-capitalised, conservative in lending and help drive an otherwise ailing economy.

But inflation, high interest rates, regular power blackouts and logistical bottlenecks are taking a toll on the banks' most sensitive retail and small business customers, leading to defaults.

FirstRand posted a credit loss ratio - a measure of bad loans versus total loans - of 83 basis points, up from 74 basis points last year.

Its net interest income, which grew by 14% to 42.8 billion rand, was supported by growth in both advances and deposits.

($1 = 19.2310 rand)

(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Kim Coghill and Mrigank Dhaniwala)

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