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Singapore's largest banks post strong Q1 profits but headwinds remain

Singapore's three largest banks posted higher year-over-year earnings for the first quarter driven by strong growth in various businesses, though lenders warned of tougher times ahead in the face of global headwinds.

DBS Group Holdings Ltd. reported record first-quarter earnings as net profit rose to S$1.65 billion from S$1.51 billion in the prior-year period. Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. Ltd.'s net profit rose 11% year over year to S$1.23 billion from S$1.11 billion, while United Overseas Bank Ltd. saw its net profit climb 8% year over year to S$1.05 billion from S$978 million.

But despite the first-quarter results, the banks' CEOs all sounded a warning on potential headwinds.

UOB CEO Wee Ee Cheong warned that "the macro environment remains uncertain due to the slowing global economy and ongoing trade tensions," a sentiment echoed by OCBC CEO Samuel Tsien, who said that OCBC will continue to be watchful of the progress of trade negotiations between the U.S. and China.

Meanwhile, DBS CEO Piyush Gupta said during the bank's earnings call that while it is unclear what the overall impact of the trade spat between the U.S. and China will end up, the company is expecting its trade loans to remain flat for the year. DBS also forecasts a more subdued domestic property outlook to negatively impact mortgage growth, even amid strong growth in the bank's non-trade loans.

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As of May 23, US$1 was equivalent to S$1.38.

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