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DBS to slow hiring as global growth concerns mount

TODAY reports: DBS hired more than 1,000 people last year, and expects to hire a much lower figure in 2016, says CEO Piyush Gupta.

SINGAPORE: DBS Group Holdings, South-east Asia’s largest lender by assets, will slow down hiring and wage increases this year as part of an effort to manage expenses amid a challenging outlook, chief executive Piyush Gupta said on Monday (Feb 22).

His comments came as the bank, which employs more than 22,000 staff, registered a 20 per cent increase in fourth-quarter net profit from the corresponding period a year earlier to S$1 billion.

Mr Gupta said the momentum built up by its performance last year should see the bank bringing in 7 to 8 per cent of top-line growth this year. However, in light of slower economic growth and greater external uncertainties, the bank’s strategy for this year is to keep the increase in expenses to a similar rate as its top-line growth.

“We are slowing down in our hiring. We hired well over 1,000 people in 2015, and we expect to hire much lower than that this year ... We are also calibrating down the average wage increases for this year and it is biased towards the senior people,” he said at a briefing to announce the bank’s results.

Despite the uncertainties, Mr Gupta said the region’s economic fundamentals are sound, with countries such as India and Indonesia showing promise. Risks linked to slower growth are also manageable, he added. “Looking at the environment in the region, it’s not all doom and gloom. It is challenging. We are not trying to be overly sanguine, but there is no crisis,” he said.

The release of DBS’ financial statement rounded off the latest quarterly results announcements by all three Singapore-listed banks. Last week, United Overseas Bank reported a marginal 0.3 per cent year-on-year increase in fourth-quarter net profit to S$788 million, while Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp reported net profit jumped 21 per cent to S$960 million.

Compared to the other two banks, DBS reported the largest exposure to oil and gas borrowers at Dec 31, including to services companies, which were the most affected by the collapse in oil prices, Moody’s Investors Service said in a commentary on Tuesday.

DBS' exposure to oil and gas services firms amounted to around 24 per cent of its common equity Tier 1 capital. Only 1.3 per cent of its loans to oil support services borrowers is non-performing, DBS said, adding that the quality of the other parts of its oil and gas portfolio remains healthy.

“Given the prolonged softness in the oil and gas markets, Moody's expects DBS will increase its provisions in coming quarters, and in particular against its oil and gas exposures, which in turn will pressure profitability,” the bond credit rating firm said.

Read the original TODAY report here.