Johannesburg - Standard Bank, Africa’s largest lender, said first-half profit rose 2 percent, helped by a decrease in bad debts and growth outside South Africa.

Net income advanced to 8.23 billion rand from 8.07 billion rand a year earlier, the Johannesburg-based lender said today in a statement.

Earnings per share excluding one-time items rose 1.4 percent to 5.13 rand, while the bank increased its dividend 11 percent to 2.59 rand a share.

South African lenders, including Old Mutual’s Nedbank, have said profit growth will be constrained this year as consumers struggle to repay loans as the economy contracts.

Inflation has been accelerating and interest rates have risen.

“Sluggishness in the South African economy is expected to persist for the remainder of 2014 which is likely to hamper domestic revenue growth and may affect the confidence of our customer base,” the bank said.

Income from continuing operations increased by 12 percent “due mainly to strong growth in the group’s rest of Africa subsidiaries,” chief executive Sim Tshabalala said in the statement. - Bloomberg News