Banks Beat Back Subprime Losses

The only catch: These fast-growing financial powerhouses are in China.

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Billions in subprime write-downs couldn't stop China's top banks from growing at rates that would make Bank of America (or Bear Stearns) blush.

For 2007, the Bank of China's net profit climbed 31 percent. At the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, which hosted the world's largest initial public offering in 2006, profits rose 65 percent. Both are state owned, and both wrote down more than $1 billion because of mortgage and credit losses.

Both are also profiting from a huge banking boom in China caused by a massive structural shift that's slowly turning state-run lenders into full-service (if not fully independent) multinational lenders.

At the ICBC, nonperforming loans are dropping, and the bank this month launched a $1 billion natural resource fund with South Africa's Standard Bank. That deal follows a $583 million deal for 80 percent of Macau's Seng Heng Bank, a beachhead for pushing into the island's lucrative gambling industry.

With the Chinese government still trying to tighten up lending standards to slow its superheated economic growth and the global banking sector in turmoil, this year won't exactly be an easy one. But the efforts to expand and reform China's banks could prove lucrative in the future.