Johannesburg – FirstRand, Africa’s biggest bank by value, said first-half profit was little changed after South Africa’s economy slowed and non-performing loans increased.

Net income rose to R10.48 billion ($683 million) in the six months ended December 31 from R10.3 billion a year earlier, the Johannesburg-based company said in a statement on Tuesday.

Read: SA banks fall the most since December

Earnings per share excluding one-time items climbed 3 percent to R1.85 and the dividend increased to R1.08 a share from 93 cents. Non-performing loans increased 8 percent.

FirstRand, with operations in nine African countries, runs a consumer bank, a vehicle-financing unit, an asset manager and an investment bank. It has steered away from acquiring assets, choosing to grow organically across the continent in countries like Nigeria and Zambia where the economies were expanding faster than those of developed nations. Its four units work together to try service the same clients and manage the risks associated with lending, especially in its home market where the economy has slowed.

In the second half “advances growth is likely to decline, as further cuts are made given the deteriorating outlook, and corporate activity is unlikely to pick up significantly”, FirstRand said in the statement.

“Retail and corporate bad debts are likely to increase further in the second half.”

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