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PwC Survey Shows Record Profits From Banks' China Operations

SYDNEY--International banks have defied concerns of a slowdown in Asia's largest economy, reaping record profits from their Chinese operations last year and most forecast annual growth of around 20% until 2015, according to a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Growing investment by multinational companies in China helped foreign banks more than double their net profits in the country to RMB16.73 billion in 2011 ($2.62 billion), the survey of 41 international lenders found. Meanwhile, banks such as Barclays Bank (BCS), Credit Suisse (CS), Deutsche Bank (DB), JPMorgan Chase and Co. (JPM) and Australia's big four lenders boosted their assets under management by almost a quarter to RMB2.15 trillion. The upbeat findings come as growth has started to slow in the world's second-largest economy. This week the International Monetary Fund cut its estimates for China's economic expansion this year and warned of the possibility of a hard landing there in the medium term. The slowdown is also being felt in the corporate sector. Since Friday, major Chinese companies including electronic equipment maker ZTE Corp., China Eastern Airlines Corp. and retailer Suning Appliance Co. have lowered their earnings forecasts, while some foreign companies, such as Nike Inc. as well as Burberry Group PLC, have also indicated softening growth in demand in China. Yet China still offers better prospects for many global banks than the sluggish economies of their home markets. On Monday, Citigroup Inc. Chief Executive Vikram Pandit staked the future of the third-largest bank by assets in the U.S. on growing business in faster-growing, lower-income economies after reporting a 12% fall in earnings to $2.95 billion, or 95 cents a share, from $3.34 billion the previous year. Foreign banks are now more dedicated to their Chinese investments than since 2008, the survey found. In Shanghai, foreign banks now hold 12% of the RMB8.2 trillion assets held by banks--a proportion PwC expects to grow as Beijing continues to liberalize its currency and restrictions on its financial system. For many of the banks--particularly Europe's crisis-hit lenders--a major barrier to growth is raising funds to finance lending. Many are now focussing on raising more capital from local corporate deposits rather than through their parent companies, according to PwC Financial Services Advisory Partner William Yung. "The fundamental challenge for the foreign banks over the next three years will be balancing the investment and needs of a dynamic and fast-developing Chinese market against the constraints of a slowing economy back home," Mr. Yung said. --Suzanne Kapner, Carlos Tejada and Paul Mozur contributed to this article -Write to Caroline Henshaw at Subscribe to WSJ:

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