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NatWest resumes dividends, to exit Ireland

LONDON, Feb 19 (Reuters) - NatWest swung to a full-year loss for 2020 after COVID-19 lockdowns crunched household spending, but resumed investor payouts as bad loan provisions came in below expectations for the year.

The bank also said it will exit the Republic of Ireland following a strategic review of its Ulster Bank unit there, and sell 4 billion euros ($4.84 billion) worth of loans to Allied Irish Banks.

The bank on Friday reported a pre-tax loss of 351 million pounds ($490.52 million) for the year, better than an average of analyst forecasts of a 418 million pound loss. The bank had made a 4.2 billion pound pre-tax profit the prior year.

Impairment charges came in at 3.2 billion pounds for 2020, below the bank’s guidance of a minimum 3.5 billion pounds.

Despite the loss, the bank announced it would pay out a dividend of 3 pence per share, slightly ahead of an analyst forecast of 2.7 pence per share, after the Bank of England gave lenders the green light to resume investor payouts.

The bank pledged to increase shareholder returns in future years by distributing at least 800 million pounds per year from next year up until 2023.

NatWest remains 62% government-owned as a legacy of its state bailout in the 2007-09 financial crisis. ($1 = 0.7156 pounds) ($1 = 0.8271 euros) (Reporting by Iain Withers and Lawrence White Editing by Rachel Armstrong)

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