Ulster Bank has reported higher operating profits for 2019 as its gross new lending rose by 13%.

Ulster Bank, which is owned by Royal Bank of Scotland, said its operating profit rose to €55m in the 12 months to December, up from €15m in 2018.

But the bank's total income fell to €647m from €689m in 2018 mainly due to reduced income from non-performing loans after the sale of a portfolio of mortgages as well as some accounting changes.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, Ulster Bank chief executive Jane Howard said the bank has no plans to sell off further loans this year.

"I can never rule it out but my priority and the teams priority here is to help customers to get to sustainable solutions," she said.

In terms of tracker mortgages, Ms Howard said that Ulster Bank has made all of their redress and compensation payments to customers. 

She again apologised to customers impacted by the controversy.

"We got it badly wrong, I want to apologise again very sincerely to anyone who was impacted. We have no outstanding issues on tracker mortgages. We are not in dispute on any news issues and we have not had to make any new provision in that context," she added.

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Today's results show that operating expenses at the bank fell by almost 3% to €630m from €657m the previous year on the back of reduced project and pension costs after the bank reduced its staff numbers. 

The bank said its gross new lending last year increased by 13% to €3 billion, as it recorded new mortgage lending of €1.4 billion and new lending to businesses of €1.6 billion.

Overall net loans to customers increased to €21.4 billion during 2018 from €21 billion in 2018.

Meanwhile, customer deposits increased by €1.6 billion, or 8%, which Ulster Bank said supported a reduction in the loan:deposit ratio to 98% from 105%. 

Ulster Bank said its net impairment release of €38m "reflects improvements in the performance of the loan portfolio and the accounting change for interest in suspense recoveries, partially offset by a charge for economic uncertainty".

Its tracker mortgage balances reduced by 8.4% from 2018 and Ulster Bank said its tracker balances now account for 38.2% of total net loans at the end of the year.

Ulster Bank's chief executive Jane Howard said the bank lent more to customers in 2019 to buy a home or expand their business.

Ms Howard also said the bank saw improvements in its non-performing loan and loan to deposit ratios, an improvement in its asset quality, while its net assets grew for the first time since 2008.

"Our non-performing loan ratio improved with further reduction to come as we support customers in difficulty to get onto a sustainable solution and we realise the sale of an NPL portfolio announced in October," she said. 

"In this area, our primary focus continues to be to help customers in difficulty to come to a sustainable solution to keep them in a home they can afford," she added.