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Standard Chartered Profits Jump, Eyes Growth in South Africa

Asia-focused bank Standard Chartered beat expectations with a 30% jump in half-year profit on Tuesday and said it would consider more acquisitions to accelerate growth, including in South Africa.

"South Africa is a country where we'd like to grow our business because we see it fitting well with the rest of our Africa franchise," Chief Executive Peter Sands told reporters on a conference call.

"As in every market our primary inclination is to drive growth through organic means, but we wouldn't rule out acquisitions either," he said.

Sands declined to comment on speculation the bank was interested in buying Nedbank, South Africa's fourth-biggest bank. A report last month said it had been in talks with Nedbank, which is majority owned by insurer Old Mutual.

Standard Chartered shares were up 3.2% at 16.20 pounds, one of the top performers in a strong U.K. share market and lifting the bank's value to near 23 billion pounds.

Standard Chartered has made a string of acquisitions in recent years and will not shy away from more deals, Sands said.

"We are on constant lookout for acquisitions to find new platforms for growth and new capabilities to support our growth," Sands said, but added he took a "very rigorous approach" to deals.

Profits Ahead

Standard Chartered, which makes three-quarters of its profits in Asia, said pretax profit in the six months to the end of June was $1.98 billion, up from $1.53 billion a year before and ahead of the average forecast of $1.85 billion from a Reuters Estimates poll of six analysts.

Its costs grew faster than income in the first half, as it had predicted, as it invests in building businesses in China and other fast growing markets.

Expenses for underlying businesses -- stripping out the impact of recent acquisitions -- rose 23% in the first half, faster than underlying revenue growth of 21%, and is likely to be balanced for the full year.

Sands said cost growth was likely to be "broadly in line" with income growth again in 2008, but he said it was too early for an accurate prediction.

The bank had strong income momentum in both wholesale and consumer banking, but its Korean business, which was its biggest ever acquisition in 2005, posted a disappointing first-half performance.

Korea consumer banking profits fell 2% to $117 million in the first half, as a tough Korean mortgage market hit volumes and margins.

"I don't expect the mortgage market to suddenly return to growth this year," Sands said when asked if the tough conditions would persist in the second half.

The group's first-half charge for bad debts was $361 million, up 3% from a year ago, but it said impairments excluding businesses acquired fell 27% due to improvements in Taiwan bad debts.