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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 February 2006, 08:40 GMT
RBS unveils record 8bn profits
RBS branch
RBS has been looking overseas to boost business
Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has unveiled bumper pre-tax profits of 7.9bn ($13.8bn) - up 21% on last year.

RBS said that income had risen 14% to 25.57bn, driven by corporate lending and strong consumer banking in the US.

While the bank said it had set aside more cash to cover bad consumer debts, it added there were signs that such loans could be levelling off.

The owner of NatWest and Directline also revealed plans to buy back up to 1bn in shares over the coming year.

We are particularly pleased with the geographic mix of our profits, 42% of which come from our international operations
Sir Fred Goodwin, RBS

Experts suggested the move was aimed at investors concerned about its forays overseas and corporate takeovers.

Foreign focus

In August last year, RBS invested almost 1bn in Bank of China, while in 2004 the group snapped up Charter One Financial in the US for 5.8bn.

The bank also raised its dividend by 25%.

"We are particularly pleased with the geographic mix of our profits, 42% of which come from our international operations," chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin said.

Sir Fred also revealed that the bank was trying to switch the focus of the business so that it was less dependent on the UK, where consumers are trying to limit their borrowing after racking up record debt levels.

Bad debt costs rose 7% to 1.71bn for RBS, but the repayment trouble consumers had experienced did not affect its corporate business, where the quality of loans improved.

Takeover boost

RBS also benefited from increased merger and acquisition activity last year - it was one of the banks that helped Telefonica fund its 18.5bn takeover of mobile group O2.

On the UK High Street, performance improved at the group's retail banking business in the second half of the year, with income up 7% compared to a rise of 3% between January and June.

And while RBS said there were signs of a slowdown in consumer borrowing, average loans and advances rose 11%, while mortgage lending increased 12% to 46.1bn.

The news continues a trend of massive profit announcements for the UK's big banks.

Last week, Barclays also posted record profits of 5.28bn, while profits at Lloyds TSB rose 4% to 3.47bn.

But the world's number one bank, HSBC, is expected to end the bank reporting season with record-breaking profits of more than 11bn.

But there is growing criticism of the amount they charge customers who go overdrawn, and the low rate of interest often paid on savings accounts.

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