Norwegian Finans Holding (the NFH Group) reported profit after tax in the first quarter of 2021 of NOK 396.8 million, compared with NOK 436.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2020 and MNOK 368.0 in the first quarter last year. The decrease from the previous quarter is mainly caused by lower interest income due to volume and currency effects, and VISA dividend received in the fourth quarter, partly offset by seasonal provision income from kick-back in the current quarter. Return on equity was 14.3%, compared with 16.4% in the previous quarter. The return on assets was 2.6%, compared with 2.7% in the previous quarter.
A dividend of NOK 6 per share was approved at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) on April 27th, with NOK 5 per share to be paid on May 6 and the Board of Directors has been granted authorization to pay the remaining NOK 1 per share in Q4 2021, pending the development of the pandemic. The common equity tier 1 ratio was 23.5% in Q1 2021 (26.8% pre dividend set-aside), compared to our internal target of 17.5%.
Gross loans to customers decreased NOK 2 223 million compared with a decrease of NOK 1 968 million in the previous quarter and totaled NOK 40 656 million. Currency adjusted gross loan growth was NOK -892.8 million compared with NOK -847.3 million in the previous quarter. Broken down by product the currency adjusted loan growth for instalment loans was NOK -245.8 million compared with NOK -333.7 million in the previous quarter, and for credit cards NOK -647.1 million compared with NOK -513.7 million in the previous quarter. The negative growth in both instalment loans and credit cards is mainly from Norway and currency effects main reason for lower contributions from the other countries, as well as development in credit cards still being on low levels related to lower customer spending due to COVID-19. Instalment loans amounted to NOK 29 791 million and credit card loans amounted to NOK 10 865 million at the end of the first quarter 2021.
Our deposit volumes continue to reduce towards having a more balanced deposit to loan ratio. Customer deposits were reduced by NOK 3 168 million compared with a decrease of NOK 1 202 million in the fourth quarter and were NOK 39 510 million at the end of the first quarter. Currency adjusted growth was NOK -2 003 million compared with NOK -172.6 million in the previous quarter.
In the first quarter the bank issued two MREL eligible senior preferred bonds of NOK 700 million and SEK 300 million. MREL capital will be issued according to the linear phase-in plan, and issuance of senior non-preferred bonds is expected to be made in the second half of 2021 at the latest, following the completion of the announced merger between Norwegian Finans Holding ASA and Bank Norwegian ASA. The merger was approved in the AGM on April 27th and is expected to commence according to plan.
The start of 2021 was highly affected by an increased pandemic growth rate after the holiday season and with ambition to combat the third wave of COVID-19, the society has suffered from partial lockdowns and strict social restrictions throughout the first quarter. The shutdown has in turn resulted in further reduced economic activity in the quarter, resulting in even lower volumes of credit card purchases, particularly in the first two months while some improvements are visible in the usage during March.
There has been a strong focus on vaccination programs in the quarter. Over the coming quarters, the vaccinations are likely to increase the possibility to regain normal activities again and creating a new normal with economic growth, expectedly after the summer holiday. The Nordic economies have proven to be resilient and well prepared to endure the uncertain economic times caused by the effects of COVID-19.
The NFH Group's resilient financial position with high profitability, strong capitalization and high levels of liquid assets make the NFH Group well equipped to withstand the anticipated adverse effects of COVID-19 also going forward. With strong capital levels we will continue with the plans on executing the European expansion with expected launch in the fourth quarter, as well as maintaining and improving market shares in the Nordics.
For further information, see the full reporting material for the quarter at: https://www.banknorwegian.no/OmOss/InvestorRelations
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This information is subject to the disclosure requirements pursuant to Section 5-12 the Norwegian Securities Trading Act