British bank NatWest confirmed Paul Thwaite as its permanent chief executive on Friday and reported forecast-beating profit for 2023, as it gears up for a crunch sale of state-owned stock in the company after a scandal-hit year.

The taxpayer-backed lender reported pre-tax profit of 6.2 billion pounds ($7.8 billion) for the 12-month period, up 20% on the prior year and ahead of a 5.95 billion pounds average of analyst forecasts compiled by the bank.

But it also revised down its outlook for future returns in a move that could concern investors, citing a tough economic environment days after official data showed Britain entered a recession in late 2023.

NatWest shares dropped nearly 3% in early trading, as investors looked past the profit jump to take in the much more modest returns target.

NatWest also announced, as expected, a share buyback of 300 million pounds.

Thwaite becomes CEO on a permanent basis with immediate effect, the bank said. He took on the role on an interim basis last July following the abrupt departure of his predecessor Alison Rose.

The former business banking boss will be tasked with repairing the group's reputation after a damaging row with former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage last year over closure of his accounts that forced out Rose and wealth boss Peter Flavel.

Thwaite will also prepare the ground for a planned retail sale of government-owned stock in the bank - which remains 35% taxpayer-owned after its 45.5 billion pound bailout in the 2008-9 financial crisis.

The sale is a key part of finance minister Jeremy Hunt's plans to try to reinvigorate interest in investing in British stocks, and could take place as early as June.



The bank's results provide an early picture of how Britain's major lenders are faring, with Barclays, HSBC and Lloyds all due to report results next week.

NatWest's profit was its biggest since its state rescue, as higher central bank interest rates continued to lift lending revenue. But a greater risk of cash-strapped borrowers defaulting on loans and pressure from fiercer competition for savings and mortgage products are eating into margins.

The lender reduced its returns target for 2024 to around 12%, much lower than an earlier goal of 14%-16% and the 17.8% achieved last year. The bank said the revision was also due to an expected reduction in interest rates by the Bank of England and changes in consumer behaviour.

The bank said its net interest margin - a key measure of lending profitability - dipped to 2.86% at the end of December from 2.94% at end-September.

NatWest set aside 578 million pounds for potential soured loans, up from 337 million pounds the prior year - but the figure came in below analysts' forecasts.

The bank said its staff bonus pool shrank to 356 million pounds from 368 million the year before, which it said reflected the fact it had missed some financial targets.

It announced a final dividend of 11.5 pence per share.


($1 = 0.7940 pounds) (Reporting by Iain Withers and Lawrence White; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)