Equity Group Holdings has said on Monday it launched a 500 billion shilling ($4.48 billion) loan programme to help small and medium-sized businesses to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bank posted an 85% rise in nine-month pretax profit, sending its stock up more than 4% to 52.00 shillings per share at 0739 GMT.

In March, Equity’s chief executive officer (CEO) James Mwangi, its , said Equity would dedicate about 400 billion shillings over the next five years to the businesses. Mwangi told an investor briefing on Monday, the post-COVID resilient plan had been increased to 500 billion shillings and aimed to reach 5 million businesses.

The lender’s nine-month pretax profit rose 85% to 36.6 billion shillings, helped by higher interest income, falling provisions for bad loans and growth from subsidiaries, Mwangi said. Pretax profit had fallen by a fifth in the first nine months of 2020, when the bank’s provisions for bad loans surged.

Mwangi told the investor briefing the lender’s net loans increased 23% to 559 billion shillings, and this was expected to grow by 20% to 25% for the full year. Loan loss provisions fell to 5.14 billion shillings from 14.76 billion shillings in the same period last year, he said.

In March 2020, Kenya’s central bank allowed lenders to restructure loans for companies hit by the pandemic and gave them until March 2 this year to carry out the restructuring.

Mwangi said of the 171 billion shillings in loans restructured due to the pandemic, payments on 122 billion shillings resumed in the first nine months of this year, with payments on a further 39 billion shillings in loans to resume in the next 12 months.

In late October, President Uhuru Kenyatta lifted a night-time curfew that had been in place since March 2020, which was expected to rejuvenate economic activity.

Edited By: Chepkosgei Jedidah