* Nedbank says half-year profits fell by 69.5%
* Bad debts prompted by virus biggest drag
* Lender says hopeful the worst is over
* Shares fall as market favours greater pessimism (Adds CEO comments on dividend, updates shares)
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 26 (Reuters) - South Africa's Nedbank NEDJ.J said on Wednesday it hoped the worst impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic were over after half-year profits fell almost 70%, but its shares fell as traders tended towards a more pessimistic view.
The lender, which last week flagged a hit to its interim profits from bad debt charges, said on Wednesday its full-year profits would be at least 20% lower. its results statement said it hoped the "worst impacts of COVID-19 and the (Great Lockdown Crisis) are behind us" and Nedbank Chief Executive Mike Brown said data showed some activities returning towards pre-lockdown levels.
"We expect H2 credit losses to be lower than H1," he said, adding a provision taken for potential future loan losses should not recur, although any forecasts were subject to uncertainty.
Nedbank's credit impairment charge increased 202% to almost 7.7 billion rand ($458 million) during the six months to June 30.
This lowered its headline earnings per share - the main profit measure in South Africa - to 438 cents, versus 1,435 cents a year earlier.
Last week, it warned of a HEPS fall to between 402 and 472 cents. 3 billion rand of the charge was a provision for future possible losses, less than made by some peers, such as Absa (JO: ABGJ ), which took a heftier hit upfront. investors cheered Absa's approach, Nedbank's shares closed almost 5.7% lower on Wednesday.
"Banks are finding market support for taking an extra conservative approach," Stuart Theobald, chairman at research house Intellidex, said.
Brown said Nedbank would consider dividends when guidance changed from the central bank, which has asked lenders to halt payouts to preserve capital during the COVID-19 crisis.
He added during the lender's results presentation that as long as the guidance on dividends is removed, Nedbank's economic forecasts play out and key performance metrics are within guided ranges, the lender anticipated returning to dividends by the first half of 2021.
($1 = 16.7955 rand)
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