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UPDATE 1-Bank of China, AgBank see Q4 profit jump as margins ease

* Two of China’s Big Five see over 60% Q4 profit jump

* Margins inch up

* AgBank president says pressure remains (Adds details)

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, March 30 (Reuters) - Two of China’s largest lenders each reported an over 60% rise in net profit for the fourth quarter of 2020 on Tuesday, as margins inched wider.

This follows the results logged by three of the country’s other biggest banks - together the Big Five - which also reported profit growth and steady net interest margins, a key gauge of profitability.

Bank of China (BoC), the country’s fourth-largest bank by assets, reported a 69.5% rise in net profit for the fourth quarter of 2020, while Agricultural Bank of China Ltd (AgBank) posted a 61% rise over the same period.

During the first three quarters of 2020, Chinese lenders made hefty loan-loss provisions as Beijing urged the sector to step up lending to pandemic-hit sectors, but many have begun to turn a corner in earnings in tandem with an economic recovery and are expected to continue to do so throughout the year.

Analysts predict a positive turn in NIM for big banks this year because of the central bank’s gradual return to a neutral monetary policy stance.

For BoC, the most international of China’s large state banks in terms of global franchise, NIM improved slightly to 1.85% from 1.81% three months earlier.

AgBank followed suit with a NIM of 2.2% at the end of December from 2.14% at the end of June. The lender does not release NIM every quarter.

However, despite the rosy forecasts, margins are still under pressure for some this year.

“The bank is still facing certain pressure on NIM in 2021, in the first quarter of 2021, the re-pricing of mortgage loans has dragged NIM lower by 2-3 basis points,” said AgBank President Zhang Qingsong in an earnings call on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, non-performing loan ratios also held roughly steady for the two lenders.

At BoC, NPL ratio inched lower to 1.46% at the end of December from 1.48% at the end of September. AgBank’s NPL ratio rose slightly to 1.57% from 1.52% over the same period.

But BoC’s party committee member and vice-president to be Chen Huaiyu warned “the marginal tightening of monetary policy, exits of supportive measures for SMEs and lagging impact of the pandemic,” will still put pressure on assets.

$1 = 6.5627 Chinese yuan renminbi Reporting by Cheng Leng in Beijing, Zhang Yan and Engen Tham in Shanghai; editing by Louise Heavens

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