Natwest swings to profit of £2.5bn after a £707m loss last year

NatWest smashed expectations in the first half of the year as it withdrew cash that had been set aside for a rainy day and hiked shareholder payouts.

Chief executive Alison Rose says the results have been "driven by good operating performances across the group".

The bank said that operating profit before tax reached more than £2.5bn in the six months, a swing from a £707m loss in the same period last year.

It makes NatWest the latest bank to beat forecasts, following on from both Barclays and Lloyds earlier this week.

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Analysts had expected NatWest to show profits of around £1.8bn in the half.

Their estimates were close, apart from one vital component.

Along with Lloyds and Barclays, NatWest set aside billions of pounds during the early days of Covid-19, in case it was needed during the ensuing economic chaos.

But the economy today looks better than it did then, allowing all three banks to dip back into these so-called impairment charges from last year.

NatWest decided to release £705m from its impairment pot, most of which - £605m - came in the second quarter of the year.

Chief executive Alison Rose said: "These results have been driven by good operating performances across the group, underpinned by a robust loan book and a strong capital position.

"Defaults remain low and, given the improved outlook, we have released a further £0.6bn of impairment provisions in the quarter.

"While we see the potential for a more rapid recovery, we will continue to take an appropriate and conservative approach as the government schemes wind down and the economy reopens."

The business said it will pay an interim dividend of 3p per share, returning £347m to shareholders that way.

The Government, which took a stake in the group during the 2008 financial crisis, will receive £190m of this.

NatWest will also buy back shares worth up to £750m from its investors.

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