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UPDATE 3-India's top lender SBI confident on asset quality after posting record profit

(Recasts with chairman comments, updates shares)

BENGALURU, May 21 (Reuters) - Top lender State Bank of India sought to allay concerns about its asset quality and forecast credit growth in low double digits for the full year, after reporting earnings that were well above estimates for the final quarter of fiscal 2021.

Most Indian banks have reported strong numbers for the March-quarter on a lower base and as lending picked up before the second coronavirus wave, but fresh lockdowns have since fanned worries about an increase in bad loans.

“We expect credit growth to be 10% (for the full year) if hopefully the second wave of COVID-19 is behind us by the close of this quarter,” Chairman Dinesh Khara said on a post-earnings call.

SBI’s loans grew 5.7% in fiscal 2021, compared with the bank’s estimate of 7%. They grew 5.6% in the previous year.

Siddharth Purohit, research analyst at SMC Institutional Equities, however, said it would be difficult to reach double-digit credit growth as corporate borrowing remained slow.

Shares of the bank closed up 4.3% to their highest since early March, and are up around 46% for the year.

Gross bad loans as a ratio of total loans, a measure of asset quality, ticked up to 4.98% from 4.77% a quarter earlier. India’s top court in March lifted an interim stay that had prevented banks from recognising bad loans.

“Going forward we do not see any concern on the asset quality front,” Khara said, adding that the economy is expected to bounce back sooner than it did last year even as the bank remains on a “wait-and-watch” mode.

SBI’s net profit jumped 80% to a record 64.51 billion rupees ($883.09 million) as bad loan provisions slid 16.6%, beating analysts’ expectations for a profit of 61.47 billion rupees, according to Refinitiv IBES data.

$1 = 73.0500 Indian rupees Reporting by Chris Thomas in Bengaluru and Nupur Anand in Mumbai; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Anil D’Silva

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