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Commerzbank profit rises as loan losses fall

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Commerzbank posted a better-than-expected fourth-quarter net profit of 77 million euros ($87 million) as a falloff in loan loss provisions compensated for weaker revenue and Chief Executive Martin Blessing predicted a difficult year ahead.

The bank's troubled asset portfolio, which it put into a "bad bank" for restructuring, shrank to 84 billion euros from 88 billion euros at the end of September in a sign the lender's revamp remains on track.

The unit contains investments stemming from an expansion drive that backfired, requiring the German government to spend around 18 billion euros on a bailout of the bank in the financial crisis.

Blessing is more than half-way through a four-year recovery plan for Commerzbank, a household name which finances more than a third of Germany's exports and competes with Deutsche Bank.

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He has cut costs, shrank the bank's balance sheet and plans to reduce headcount by around 5,200. Blessing predicted "major challenges" for the financial sector but promised a more aggressive approach to increase profit in 2015.

"We strive to meet our (2016) targets for the Core Bank to reach a post tax return on equity of more than 10 percent and a cost income ratio of about 60 percent, though the economic environment has generated significant headwinds," the bank said in a presentation.

Shares were indicated to start trading 1.6 percent higher.

Analysts polled by Reuters had on average expected Germany's second-largest bank by balance sheet size to post a quarterly net profit of 58.5 million euros.

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The bank's capital ratio calculated in the most stringent form of new bank rules weakened slightly to 9.5 percent at the end of December compared with 9.6 percent at the end of September. The bank aims to achieve a core equity Tier 1 ratio using the full application of Basel rules of 10 percent in 2016.

Commerzbank's Mittelstandsbank unit, which caters to Germany's raft of medium-sized companies, saw pre-tax profit 249 million euros, up 31 percent on the year.

By contrast, Commerzbank saw results from its investment banking unit fall 24 percent on the year to 119 million euros.

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