UPDATE 1-RBS boosts dividend but warns Brexit turmoil could increase costs

LONDON () – Britain’s Royal Bank of Scotland unveiled a better than expected dividend for long-suffering investors after its profit more than doubled in 2018, but warned Brexit would make it harder to achieve its cost-cutting goals. A worker cleans the glass exterior next to the logo of RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) bank at a building in Gurugram on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, September 8, 2017. /Adnan AbidiThe majority-state owned lender announced an annual dividend of 3.5 pence and a special dividend of 7.5 pence taking total payouts, including an earlier interim dividend, to 13 pence per share. However RBS chief executive Ross McEwan warned the bank faced a difficult economic environment amid a “heightened level of uncertainty related to ongoing Brexit negotiations”. The bank said the political turmoil means it will struggle to hit its target of slashing its cost to income ratio to less than 50 percent as planned by 2020. RBS reported a net profit of 1.6 billion pounds ($2.05 billion), above expectations of 1.4 billion pounds according to a company-provided average of analyst forecasts and up from the prior year’s 752 million pounds. The landmark dividend payout follows a painful decade of massive misconduct and restructuring costs for the bank following its 45 billion pound state rescue in 2008. Investors will be hopeful returns will ramp up further in the coming years, with the bank’s core capital ratio – a key measure of a lender’s resilience – coming in at 16.2 percent, giving it room to maneuver. However RBS bosses have previously cautioned that concerns over Brexit’s potential impact on the UK economy could temper ambitions to rapidly boost payouts. The bank warned economic challenges could mean a spike in bad loans, including from major business failures. Despite the note of caution, impairments on bad loans fell 19 pct to 398 million pounds in 2018 and the bank did not make any further provision for Brexit preparations on top of the 100 million pound charge billed in the third quarter. RBS’s second consecutive year in the black will likely intensify speculation the Treasury will act swiftly to sell more of its stock. The lender remains 62 percent owned by British taxpayers, although the Conservative government has conducted two share sales as it looks to return it to private ownership. ($1 = 0.7808 pounds) Reporting by Iain Withers; Editing by Rachel ArmstrongOur Standards:The Thomson Trust Principles.