ANZ New Zealand boss David Hisco says the country's biggest bank is working closely with rural customers as falling dairy prices begin to bite, but farmers are better placed to deal with the challenge than in previous cycles.
The local division of the Australasian bank yesterday reported a 5 per cent drop in half-year cash profit to $841 million.
Statutory profit, which includes economic hedging gains and insurance asset valuations, lifted 3 per cent to a record $877 million in the six months to March 31.
ANZ attributed the fall in cash profit to high levels of provision writebacks and a one-off insurance recovery in the previous comparable period.
Hisco said many dairy farmers had reduced debt since the global financial crisis, while interest rates were also lower.
"Whilst the low dairy payout is not something anyone would like to see for a sustained period, I think farmers are in a better shape today to manage it than five years ago," he said.
"The thing with our [customer] base is it's so big that we've got some that are lowly geared and some that are a bit too highly geared so we'll be working with all of our customers to make sure we can help them through."
Hisco also said that while New Zealand's economy continued to perform strongly, headwinds such as the strong dollar and slowing growth in Australia and China were emerging.
Fonterra last week cut its forecast farmgate milk price for the current season to $4.50 a kg of milk solids from $4.70, having shifted it to that level in December from $5.30.
The 20c downward revision alone was estimated to lower farm incomes by about $370 million.
Massey University banking expert David Tripe said ANZ had "sizeable exposure" to the rural sector, but bank results might not begin showing signs of financial stress among farmers until next year.
BNZ, which reports its half-year result tomorrow, had significantly increased its exposure to the sector since 2008, he added.
Reporting its interim result on Monday, which included a 2 per cent rise in cash earnings to $441 million, Westpac NZ said it had increased its agricultural lending as it pushed to boost its relatively low market share of 12 per cent in that sector.
"We're doing that very cautiously given the economic cycle and conditions," said chief executive David McLean.
ANZ New Zealand said its half-year result reflected market share growth in lending and deposits, confidence in the economy and productivity gains.
Read ANZ's latest half-year results presentation here: here:
Net interest income rose 4 per cent to $1.4 billion, while the bank's net interest margin widened to 2.52 per cent from 2.49 a year earlier.
The bank's Australian parent, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, reported a 5 per cent rise in cash profit to A$3.7 billion.