Banco Santander Central Hispano (SAN) Q4 2018 Earnings Conference Call Transcript

SAN earnings call for the period ending December 31, 2018.

Motley Fool Transcribing
Motley Fool Transcribing
Feb 4, 2019 at 8:21PM
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Banco Santander Central Hispano (NYSE:SAN)
Q4 2018 Earnings Conference Call
Feb. 4, 2019 10:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for standing by. Welcome to the fourth-quarter 2018 Banco Santander-Chile earnings conference call. [Operator instructions] As a reminder, this conference may be recorded. Now I'd like to turn the call to our chief financial officer, Emiliano Muratore.

Emiliano Muratore -- Chief Financial Officer

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to Banco Santander-Chile's fourth-quarter 2018 results webcast and conference call. This is Emiliano Muratore, CFO of the bank. As always, I'm joined by Robert Moreno, managing director of investor relations. Thank you for attending today's conference call.

We are really proud of the results during 2018. Financially, the bank achieved record profit and once again proved to be leading the industry toward the future of banking, improving in various aspects. First, let's talk about the macro environment in Chile and what we expect for this year. Please go to Slide 4, where we show our economic forecast.

In general, 2018 was a constructive year with a new positive economic cycle and greater business confidence. This was reflected in the GDP growth of 4% for 2018, driven mainly by investment growth of 6% as more companies invested in machinery and equipment. In 2018, 294 projects were approved by the environmental evaluation service for a total amount of approximately USD 25.6 billion. This should start wrapping up in the next two years.

In the pipeline for the next five years, there are around CLP 60 billion in large projects, which should continue to drive growth. Inflation also picked up during the year, which in an annualized U.S. variation of 2.8%, within the tolerance of the Central Bank, which targets an inflation of 3%. As expected, the Central Bank increased interest rate in the fourth quarter of 2018 to 2.75%.

They recently increased the rate again by 25 basis points, and we should expect further increases in the year. The velocity of this increase in rate should be slower than previously forecasted as inflation expectations have came down to four in 2018 -- in 2019, especially in the first quarter of this year. We believe interest rate should only rise once more this year to 3.25% and U.S. inflation to reach 2.5% in 2019.

If you look on Slide 5, you can also see that growth in Chile is being driven by many sectors: in 2018, the main sector that drove growth were commerce, mining and agro/fishing. Going forward, we expect strong growth coming from construction driven by the big investment projects in the mining and infrastructure sectors. Consumption should also remain strong over the next few years. Exports in the first part of 2018 expanded as the economy -- as the world economy was more dynamic and consuming a lower base for the mining exports the previous year.

What could the net of risk this year? The tendency toward more protection is positive during 2018 will affect exports going forward. This has contributed to greater uncertainty in international markets. Now Robert will give us more details on the bank's performance.

Robert Moreno -- Managing Director of Investor Relations

Thank you, Emiliano. Let's now look at Slide 7 for an overview of the year. Our net income rose 5% in the year, driven by positive growth of our core revenues. We finished the year with a return on average equity of 19.2%, in line with our guidance.

The fourth quarter was also particularly profitable, showing a 16% increase compared to the same period of 2017 leading to an ROE of 19.8%. We achieved various milestones throughout the year, which are worth mentioning. Going on to Slide 8, we wanted to highlight various aspects to which Santander-Chile is progressing. We will go further into detail in each of the following topics: financials, clients, our phygital strategy, ESG and our employees.

On Slide 9, you can see that each of our segments show results in line with each specific strategy. For our individual segments, we launched various digital initiatives and new branches, as we will see in the phygital section of our strategy. During last year, we also restructured the strategy and management for SMEs focusing on those that we can offer nonlending services as well. For middle market and Santander Corporate Investment Banking, we continue to consolidate a well-rounded client relationship focusing on the nonlending side of our services.

Finally, in financial management of the bank, we not only showed solid results in terms of capital and liquidity, we continue to innovate on financial instruments in order to gain better funding and give our investors attractive investing options. A prime example was the issuance of the first floating rate, Chilean pesos bond in the local market. We also issued a second bond at this time in the quarter showing a strong demand in the market for this profit. With regards to clients, on Slide 10, we showed the evolution of our client satisfaction throughout the year.

As of December 2018, we are on the top two banks with the best client satisfaction. We'd like to take the opportunity to mention that we have changed the client survey to a more comprehensive methodology. The new survey reaches more individuals through various channels. Our new client satisfaction survey uses over 60,000 clients surveyed via web and telephone and measures the satisfaction with the banks in three main aspects: service quality, product quality and brand image.

This new study is an improvement, having much broader and diverse sample. One of the key differences is that 85% of the surveys are done online and, therefore, reaches a younger generation and the grade intensity harsher, as it is more in personnel. Through this breakdown, we can make better management decisions to create a better experience for our clients. The improvements through the year continues to be approved and our loyal customer base continues to grow solidly.

Moving on to our phygital strategy on Slide 11. We have come a long way in the past two years. Just to highlight a few milestones: back in 2016, we launched 1-2-3 Click where clients could take out a consumer loan online with three clicks. And in 2017, we launched the Digital Onboarding and Santander Life allowing people to become a client in a few simple steps from their mobile phones.

In 2018, we launched Santander Wallet, and we're the first bank to offer our clients the ability to pay using only their mobile phones without the need for any physical credit cards, all of this in tandem with our branch innovations. On Slide 12, we can see that our digital client base has been consistently expanding. During 2018, the monthly active users increased by 27%. In terms of digital cloud consumer operations, there was also a significant increase of 75% during the year.

Of our total monetary transactions, which includes payment, transfer, deposit and services, 79% are already done online. Also of our total current account holders, 85% of them are digital. Just to note, of the total amount of preapproved consumer credit card loans, 80% are taken through our digital platforms. Slide 13 shows the branch innovations that we are implementing.

We reached our target of 40 Work Cafés at the end of 2018. And building on what we have learned from these branches in 2019 and 2018, we rolled out two new styles: The Select/private banking hub and what call the Work Café 2.0. In the Select banking hubs, the new focus of these branches is investment management with a multidisciplinary team helping with the clients' needs. This team is much more specialized in their type of products via mutual funds or alternative investment.

In this manner, the client can have a much deeper understanding of each product and we can help them reach their financial goals. The Work Café branches are currently located in prime real estate areas, usually in our largest branches with a co-working space and coffee shop picking up a big part of the branch. In the future, we envisage branches more as a point-of-sale where clients are able to look for advisory service for their financial needs and projects instead of simply cash and checks. Because of this, we are currently piloting a new type of branch, which includes all the principal characteristics of a Work Café, including a co-working space where our call managers are inserted within the co-working space.

This enables these branches to have much less square footage and are, therefore, more cost effective to expand to other branches. These branches also expand the digitalization we currently have at the Work Cafés with a new CRM that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning. We are also, particularly, proud of our ESG initiatives throughout the year. In 2018, as you can see on Slide 14, we have participated in different programs in terms of social and financial inclusion.

Through our corporate banking, we also participated, for example, in the financing of Cerro Dominador, a Solar Power complex, which should remove 879,000 tons of carbon emissions for electricity generation. Internally, we have also reduced our impact on the environment. In the past three years, we have reduced our paper consumption by 30%, our water consumption by 33% and our electricity usage by 7%.vIn 2018, we gave out for free more than four million reusable shopping bags to replace disposable plastic bags that are now prohibited in Chile. 2018 was also a positive year in terms of labor relations.

At the beginning of the year, we successfully renegotiated the collective bargaining agreement with our main union. As you can see on Slide 15, 75% of our employees belong to a union. At the end of the year, we also received the wonderful news that our employees voted us as a great place to work, reaching the No. 1 among companies in Chile with more than 5,000 employees.

We also received various awards for our commitment to our employees and unions offering them great opportunities for the professional development. All this contributes to our three objectives for healthy growth and our higher profitability as shown on Slide 16. Going into further detail on Slide 17. We can see that our deposit base grew double-digit with demand deposits growing stronger in the fourth quarter.

While one of the factors for this growth is seasonality, the overall growth in the year is due to greater economic activity along with the positive trends and client loyalty. Mutual funds also had a strong year, although the last quarter was affected by market volatility. Due to this increase in deposits, the bank's liquidity levels rose with our LCR reaching 152% and the NSFR reaching 110%. On Slide 18, we can see the effects of a Central Bank interest rate hike on our client deposit cost.

As you can see, thanks to our strategic planning, we managed to keep the cost of funding under control and below that of our main competitors. We also show a breakdown of our demand deposits by segments, which also shows that was strong growth across the board with a particular pickup in the last quarter. Remember that here, in Chile, we do not pay any interest on our demand deposits being in the cheapest form of funding for the bank. Moving to Slide 19.

The greater economic activity led to a higher level of investment and greater business confidence. This led to strong growth in our commercial segments as we started to reactivate their investment project. This led to a year-on-year growth of our middle market loans of 13.5% in the year. In the fourth quarter, our focus shifted more toward retail loans.

Consumer loans grew over 4% in the quarter as the bank looked to improve margins, while maintaining strong capital ratios. For 2019, we expect loan growth of around 8% to 10% led by higher-yielding retail banking loans. On Slide 20, we can see that our asset quality continued its positive trend. The total NPL ratio improved down to 2.1% and the impaired loan ratio improved 60 basis points year over year to 5.9%.

Improvement in both NPL and impaired loan ratios, along with a lower expected loss ratio, reflects the more positive economic trends in Chile. The total coverage ratio also improved to 129% in the quarter. Asset quality among consumer loans continues to improve as growth was driven by high income earners with the coverage ratio, including the onetime provision we recognized in the third quarter, reaching 316%. Commercial loans continued the positive trend with impaired ratio falling from 7.3% to 6.8% at the end of the year.

During the quarter, there was a slight deterioration in the NPL and impaired loan ratio, mainly due to a change in the mix as corporate lending contracted and loans in the middle market and SMEs grew, however, coverage remained healthy at 115%. As you can see from the graph on Slide 21, our NIM has been gradually decreasing due to the change in the loan mix with strong growth in commercial loans with lower spreads as well as the higher interest rates. In the fourth quarter, as consumer loan started to accelerate, the interest-earning asset yield increased, while we saw pressure from the cost of funds as interest rates rose. As the bank's liabilities repriced fast than our assets, this rise in the rate had a negative impact on margins and our average cost of funds rose 18 basis points to 2.9% quarter on quarter.

However, due to good risk management, our NIM net of risk remained stable at 3.5%. Going into 2019, while we expect retail loan growth to continue to accelerate, interest rates will continue to rise even though inflation in the first quarter will be quite low. Therefore, we should expect weaker margins for the first quarter. And as the year progresses, we should see our NIM normalizing to around 4.4% by year-end.

This outlook is subject to modifications, depending on the velocity of rate hikes and changes to our inflation forecast. On Slide 22, you can see that for the full year, our prudent management of risk kept our NIM's net of risk stable for the year offsetting the less risky asset mix and higher funding costs. Going into the second objective of our strategy of increasing client loyalty, on Slide 23, this translated into greater income from our fees and other financial services. If we look at Slide 24, the evolution of noninterest income had ups and downs in the year.

Our client treasury business had a sluggish start to the year, but in the second half of 2018, various large corporates structure their financing needs for their investment projects with us leading to strong results from client income in the fourth quarter. Fee income showed an inverse trend, starting the year strong and weakening in the second half. This was mainly due to the elimination of ATMs with low profitability and lower collection fees. If we look at fee income by segment, growth was particularly strong in retail and corporate throughout the year.

As business from corporate slowed down in the fourth quarter, fees reduced, but still achieved their record level in 2018. In December, we also renewed our cobranding agreement with LATAM Airlines for seven years. This will directly benefit more than one million customers included in the SANTANDER LATAM Pass program. By 2019, as is estimated, the bank's clients will make more than one million trips, thanks to the SANTANDER LATAM Pass program.

Overall, we see a healthy growth coming from nonlending businesses. In 2019, this should grow between 6% to 8%. As you can see on Slide 25, once again, we demonstrated good management of our costs, which increased the low inflation during 2018. We ended the year with an efficiency ratio of 40%, which we expect will remain stable during the year.

On Slide 26, we see that we have finished decreasing the amount of branches, which we now refer to as points of sale. Thanks to tech innovations, such as Work Café and digital platforms. We have been able to increase loan and deposit volumes by point of sales and employees. Slide 27 shows our efficiency versus our peers, showing that we are far below the financial system average.

Our third objective on Slide 28 focuses on optimizing profitability and capital use. Slide 29 shows the evolution of our ROE from 2015 to 2018 compared to our main competitors. While most banks have been decreasing their profitability, we have been steadily increasing throughout the years, reaching a stable ROE of 19.2%. Slide 30 shows our sustainable capital ratios.

At year-end, we reached a core capital of 10.6% and a BIS ratio of 13.4%. This is impressive considering a loan growth of 9.2% and additional provisions we had during the year. For the coming Shareholders Meeting in April, it is likely we will announce the payout of around 60% of earnings, allowing us to continue to take advantage of the growth cycle in the economy, while maintaining BIS ratios above 10.5%. In conclusion, on Slide 32, we show our outlook for 2019.

We retain a positive view on the economy. However, we do expect a slow start for the year as inflation lags and the Central Bank has already increased interest rates by 25 basis points. Loan growth will stay between 8% to 10% with the mix changing to higher-yielding retail loans and revenues should grow in line with the average loans. It is important to note that in the last webcast, we mentioned the impact was new change in provisioning models, so those commercial loans were analyzed on a group basis.

In the second quarter of this year, we should recognize a onetime provision expense of approximately CLP 55 billion pre-tax. There are no more increases to the corporate tax rate. Therefore, we expect an effective tax rate of 22% for the full year. Overall, recurring ROEs, that is without the onetime provision, should be around 19% in 2019.

At this time, we'd gladly answer any questions you may have. 


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Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. [Operator instructions] And our first question is from the line of Jason Mollin with Scotiabank. Please go ahead.

Jason Mollin -- Scotiabank -- Analyst

Hello. Hello, everyone. Thanks for the opportunity to ask a question. I just wanted to see if you could give us some commentary on the strategic focus on the consumer segment in the fourth quarter.

You mentioned that a few times in your press release and presentation, if you can talk about how you see that and how that combines with the outlook for recurring cost of risk to stay in 1%? If that incorporates a change -- material change in mix, would you be looking for cost of risk to increase? Thank you.

Robert Moreno -- Managing Director of Investor Relations

OK. So as you saw in the fourth quarter, the consumer loans accelerated. Obviously, there's a seasonal effect, but I think it went a little bit beyond that. And one thing we mentioned in the earnings report and just now in the presentation, the year began -- the economy grew 4% driven by investment.

And as the year has been progressing, we believe the economy, the outlook remains very positive. There's been a lot of questions about unemployment and employment wages, but the segments we're focusing on, we tend to look at, what they call in Chile, the administrative data. If you look at examples, what the pension fund published. You can see there are good wage growth, good employment growth.

So with economy continuing to grow strong with we believe is relatively good news overall in terms of employing a job creation and wages. And the fact that the risk of the consumer loan book has been continually going down, it basically widened our appetite, OK? So we think the consumer loan growth will speed up this year as it did in the fourth quarter, and it should grow at least with the average loan growth, maybe a little bit more, OK? For the full 2018, commercial loans and corporate lending, middle market lending was the strength. We think in 2019, it should be more or less equal between all the different products. With consumer loans speeding up, the cost of credit, given our view on economy, employment and what we've seen until now, we don't see a significant increase in the cost of risk because of its change in strategy.

Jason Mollin -- Scotiabank -- Analyst

Robert, maybe a comment on lending spreads in the consumer segment and the mortgage segment. Rates have been going up a little bit as we've seen in the impact on your numbers as well. Are you able to pass on the higher rates to clients in the lending yields or are spreads shrinking a little bit?

Robert Moreno -- Managing Director of Investor Relations

OK. I would say for the most part, the spreads fell, but they also fell in terms -- the net of risk, they've been stable. So until now, you can see that in our margins as well, the NIM has been coming down. We've been still growing middle high income.

So if you look at the growth spread or the growth rate we lend out in consumer loans, they've been going down all through last year, OK? But when you do net of risk, I think, the story has been one of stability. So going forward, I think, we're no longer exiting the low end because that's basically finished. Now we're in fact growing in Santander Life, and we're growing more in the mass markets as well as the middle high-end. So I don't think the loan's yield should fall any further in consumer lending just because the mix won't be changing like it did before.

And the rate increases, as you know, hurts us negatively in the beginning because our deposits reprice faster than our assets. But eventually, yes, it should be transferred onto the asset size, but that usually takes a little bit more than 12 months. So I would say, the rise in rates won't impact the pricing yet, but what will impact the margin will be the fact that the mix won't be shifting as much as before.

Jason Mollin -- Scotiabank -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. And our next question comes from Ernesto Gabilondo with Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Your line is now open.

Ernesto Gabilondo -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Hi. Good morning, Emiliano and Robert, and thanks for the opportunity. A couple of questions from my side. The first one is, can you share with us how much of additional provisions related to the recalibration of your consumer portfolio are you expecting for this year? And the second question is, after incorporating your 2019 guidance, is it reasonable to expect mid to high single-digit net income growth? And if you can provide what are you expecting for ROE this year, it'll be highly appreciated.

Thank you.

Emiliano Muratore -- Chief Financial Officer

OK. Yes, I mean, we -- in terms of the sizing of the recalibration of consumer, I mean, when we mentioned the CLP 55 billion for the new SME's regulation, I think, we are putting all together in that figure as one-off effects in terms of cost of risk for this year. And in terms of net income growth, yes, I mean, I would say that in the mid-single-digit -- mid- to high-single digits, it's the kind of ballpark we are getting from our guidance. And the ROE, for this year, like the recurrent ROE without considering the one-off of the provisioning we just mentioned, we are talking about around 19%.

Ernesto Gabilondo -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Terrific. Thank you very much.

Operator

Thank you. And our next question comes from Jorg Friedemann with Citibank. Your line is now open.

Jorg Friedemann -- Citi -- Analyst

Thank you very much. Just a clarification first on the previous question. You already did in the third quarter CLP 20 billion for the group-based provisions. So the whole guidance is for CLP 55 billion.

So on top of the CLP 20 billion, we expect to have during this year CLP 35 billion more. Is that correct?

Robert Moreno -- Managing Director of Investor Relations

No, no. The CLP 20 billion was last year. Let me just recap. In the third quarter, we had to do some additional provisions for the consumer, OK? This year -- and that's a different thing.

And then in this year, we have to implement the commercial, the new provisioning model for basically SMEs, let's put it. That's going to be CLP 55 billion this year, OK? So the CLP 20 billion was during the third quarter, that's for consumer, OK? That's done. And then this year, we have to do the other changes to the provisioning model, which will be CLP 55 billion this year in the second quarter.

Jorg Friedemann -- Citi -- Analyst

OK, perfect. Understood now. And the next question is related to the progression of noninterest expenses. You had announced, I think, by the end of 2017 or beginning of last year that you were going to invest more than $300 million for the upcoming three years and the progression of operating expenses in 2018 was awesome.

You grew below inflation. So how should we behave that? I understand that you expect to remain stable in terms of efficiency. But is it possible to have all tax growing in line with inflation again?

Emiliano Muratore -- Chief Financial Officer

I mean, we keep the target of having expenses growing in line with the inflation as you said. Last year, we were a bit below, but for this year and the coming years, our target is to be in line with inflation. And as you are mentioning, I mean, the investments needed in this new like era of banking in digital and all that always puts some pressure on our expenses. So if you do the math, the efficiency ratio we are driving to be around 40%, with maybe some downwards pressure if we are able to deliver on the revenue side, but we'd prefer to be conservative and talk about 40% efficiency going forward.

Jorg Friedemann -- Citi -- Analyst

Now that's perfect. I appreciate it. And the final point here. Just to understand, you are growing now a bit faster on retail consumer lines.

But you continue to see improvement -- sequential improvement in asset quality. Does this digitalization process also help on that end? Or is it expected to see some slight deterioration in terms of asset quality going forward?

Emiliano Muratore -- Chief Financial Officer

We don't expect the duration because they are like two forces playing there, as Robert mentioned before. First, the economy is doing very well and the employment figures are also good. So that's like a tailwind in terms of cost of risk. And that balances out with maybe higher mix going into consumer loans.

I mean, so those two forces kind of neutralize each other and that's why we would think that we don't keep the cost of risk around like 1%, I mean, before the one-off, I mean, with these forces compensating each other.

Jorg Friedemann -- Citi -- Analyst

OK, perfect. Thank you very much.

Operator

Thank you. [Operator instructions] And our next question is from Yuri Fernandes with J.P. Morgan. Your line is now open.

Yuri Fernandes -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

Thank you, gentlemen. Just a clarification, again, on this new risk models. I guess, this has been a recurring topic, I recall, I guess, maybe 2015 or '16. You did some change for more this year or 2018, you did for SMEs and now you're going to do for consumers.

Should we expect something again in 2020? Or this -- in 2019, this CLP 55 billion still the last adjustment you have to do on your risk models? Thank you.

Emiliano Muratore -- Chief Financial Officer

Well, that will depend on the regulator. And as you might know, I mean, in June 1, the financial market commission when merged with the superintendency of banks. So the current regulator has mentioned in the past that their idea is also to go into the consumer portfolio with a familiarized provisioning model. We are just a few months before the merger.

We don't know if the financial market commission will also follow this line, the -- I mean, it depends on the regulator, I mean, it couldn't have matched in that. I mean, if the regulator decides to implement the model, definitely we'll have to follow it that. But I think that the merger of the regulator is like an important milestone in what might happen in the future. I mean, we don't have any information that a provisioning model for consumer will be established before the merger.

And after the merger, we'll have to see what's the new stance of the commission.

Yuri Fernandes -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

OK. This change you are doing now, is this you being like more cautious than the regulator like you're anticipating potential changes or you seem to be pushed by the regulator, because I guess, in 2015, the mortgage change was one that was the regulator pushing? This one in 2018, I think, was like the bank's being more proactive on changing the regulation. And this one in 2019, I'm not sure if it's something that the banks are doing to be more, I don't know, adequate to the provision's regulations or is this being pushed by the regulator?

Robert Moreno -- Managing Director of Investor Relations

No, it's totally pushed by the regulator in the sense that it's a change in the rules and the model, OK? So remember that the banks have basically IFRS. Except when it comes to your expected loss models where you can have your own internal models, but you always have to do in parallel the regulator's model. And if the regulator model ends up giving you more provisions, you have to use theirs. So now we're changing the provisioning model for -- mainly for SMEs or commercial loans annualized on a group basis and it's turning out that the provisions in SBIF model turns out with more provisions than our internal model.

That's why we have -- so this is a regulatory change, OK?

Yuri Fernandes -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

No. Super clear. Thank you very much.

Operator

Thank you. And our next question is from Sebastián Gallego with CrediCorp Capital. Please go ahead.

Sebastian Gallego -- CrediCorp Capital -- Analyst

Hey, good morning, everyone. Thanks for the presentation. I have two questions and just a clarification. The initial question is maybe a follow-up on initial questions regarding the strategy.

Last call, I remember that you mentioned that refocusing on growth meant primarily focusing on the commercial portfolio. Now the speech seems to be changing again to the consumer. Can you explain again why is this happening since you mentioned also that private investment has been a big driver of the economy? Second question is regarding Basel III. I just want to ask you, if there are any progress on conversations with the regulators regarding density for risk-weighted assets? And just to clarify, third question or just a clarification, if you can clarify the guidance on ROE of 19% is excluding the effect of provision? I mean, in other words, it could be lower, the guidance when including the provisions? Thank you.

Emiliano Muratore -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you for your question. Regarding to your last question, yes, that's the case. I mean, we are talking about ROE around 19% without considering the one-off impacts of the new provisioning regulation. And going to your second questions about Basel III, no, we don't have any news regarding density.

The news and the good news is that the merger between the regulators is taking place like really quick. I mean, like the law gave one year for the regulators to merge and they announced -- the Ministry of Finance announced that they will be merging in June 1, so much earlier than the law established and so on. After that, the law gives 18 months to financial market commission to publish the weightings and the fine print of the regulation. And we don't have any specific news regarding that.

I mean, we keep what we have mentioned in the past that as far as the Chilean Basel III model is similar to the European one, that is that one we know and we report every month to our parent company, we expect the change to be positive for our capital ratio.

Robert Moreno -- Managing Director of Investor Relations

And then the other one, basically what we're doing is kind of the following movements in economy. So when economy started picking up, it was basically driven by investments, OK? Investments are after, I think, four years of decreasing, grew in 2018. So a lot of the loan demand was kind of like backlog investment projects that hadn't been done and that were being done, that we're reactivating, you could say, OK? And now we see that the investment cycle will continue to grow. We're still going to grow in commercial loans, but now we're just -- we're also going to see a little bit more growth as well on the retail side.

So for most of 2018 with maybe the exception of the fourth quarter, it was really the middle market, the commercial loans then drove growth and a little bit also a mortgage and then consumer was a little bit slower. And now we feel comfortable the economy is going to continue to grow. There's still going to be investment. There's going to be good commercial loan growth.

But added onto that, we should see more consumer loans. I think, that basically explains the change in strategies because we're moving along with economy.

Sebastian Gallego -- CrediCorp Capital -- Analyst

Perfect. Thank you so much.

Operator

Thank you. And I am not showing any further questions in the queue. I would like to turn the call back to Emiliano Muratore for his final remarks.

Emiliano Muratore -- Chief Financial Officer

So thank you all very much for taking the time to participate in today's call. We look forward to speaking with you again soon.

Robert Moreno -- Managing Director of Investor Relations

Thank you.

Emiliano Muratore -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Operator

[Operator signoff]

Duration: 40 minutes

Call Participants:

Emiliano Muratore -- Chief Financial Officer

Robert Moreno -- Managing Director of Investor Relations

Jason Mollin -- Scotiabank -- Analyst

Ernesto Gabilondo -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Jorg Friedemann -- Citi -- Analyst

Yuri Fernandes -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

Sebastian Gallego -- CrediCorp Capital -- Analyst

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