National Australia Bank posts 16 pct profit hike

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SYDNEY (AP) — National Australia Bank Ltd., one of Australia's biggest lenders, on Thursday posted a 16 percent increase in half-year profit to 2.86 billion Australian dollars ($2.67 billion), helped by a reduction in bad debts and an improving British economy.

The statutory profit for the six months through March was an increase of AU$390 million from the same period a year earlier.

Cash earnings, the banking industry's preferred measure, increased by 8.5 percent, or AU$247 million, to AU$3.15 billion in the latest half year.

The charge for bad debts across its Australian and British operations for the latest half year was AU$528 million — 37 percent less than that for the previous six months and 52 percent less than for the corresponding period ending March 31, 2013.

NAB chief executive Cameron Clyne said his bank's British business was benefiting from improvements in the economy.

"The economic environment continued to improve during the period. This is evident in the U.K. where confidence and economic growth have risen again and become more broad-based," he said in a statement.

Clyne was optimistic about the outlook for business lending in Australia.

"In Australia, the housing sector has strengthened further, and improved business confidence, along with corporate gearing at near 20-year lows, makes us optimistic about the business sector and potential for a recovery in business credit growth," he said.

Earnings from the bank's British operations more than doubled to 73 million pounds ($124 million), thanks to the reduction in bad debts.

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