* Standard Bank, FirstRand likely to declare dividends
* Absa, Nedbank might hold off on payouts
* Payouts to be below pre-COVID levels
By Emma Rumney
JOHANNESBURG, Feb 23 (Reuters) - At least two of South Africa's major banks are likely to declare dividends after the central bank last week eased guidance on payouts, analysts and investors said.
The South African Reserve Bank had in April advised banks not to pay dividends or bonuses to preserve capital during the coronavirus crisis, prompting lenders to put distributions on hold even as some signalled they had adequate resources to pay.
The move will have left bank boards scrambling to make a decision just ahead of their financial results, with lender FirstRand FSRJ.J for instance left with just over a week before it is due to report.
But analysts and investors told Reuters that at least two of the country's big four lenders, and perhaps all of them, will ultimately opt to pay out.
Standard Bank already said last year it was discussing a possible dividend declaration in March with the SARB. Another lender, Investec INVP.L INLJ.J , opted to declare a dividend in November despite the guidance.
"We expect Absa ABGJ.J and Nedbank NEDJ.J to hold off on dividends until the second half of the year, as while their... capital levels are well above regulatory minimums, they are at the end of their internal target ranges," Talpert added.
A top investor who asked not to be name agreed with his view, but said all four could make a payment.
FirstRand and Nedbank declined to comment. Standard Bank, Absa, and Capitec (JO: CPIJ ) had no immediate comment or did not immediately respond to requests.
South Africa's banks have all suffered as hefty provisions for bad debts carved a chunk out of profits, but their capital levels remained robust and many say the credit situation is improving.
The SARB said in its guidance banks should consider a number of factors, including current and projected capital levels, internal targets and future risks, when making dividend decisions to ensure they have enough capital to support the economy amid high uncertainty.
Stuart Theobald, chairman of Intellidex, said he expected all big four banks to declare a payout, with lenders keen to protect the investment case for their shares.
"I expect, however, that (the payouts) will be less than their historic dividend policies as banks will need to be cautious in the face of the lingering uncertainties over the pandemic."
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