Spain's Santander hit by one-off charges, capital improves

Spanish bank Santander's fourth-quarter net profit slumped by 98 percent, it said on Wednesday, hit by mis-selling compensation in Britain and slowing income in Brazil, two of its most important markets.

The bank, which has long been under scrutiny over its capital ratios, showed progress on this front in the fourth quarter, however, with ratios under the strictest criteria nudging up to more than 10 percent, meeting Santander's targets.

Compensation for British customers mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI) accounted for almost half of 1.44 billion euros ($1.57 billion) in one-off charges, while profit excluding one-offs felt the impact of the decline in its recession-hit Brazilian business.

The euro zone's largest lender by market value posted recurring group profit that was flat against last year at a slightly worse than expected 1.46 billion euros. Including one-off charges, net profit came in at only 25 million euros.

A Banco Santander office in Madrid, Spain.
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A Banco Santander office in Madrid, Spain.

Chairman Ana Botin is driving a lending push by the bank, which increased net credit to clients by 7.6 percent over the whole of 2015.

Low interest rates across the euro zone are squeezing margins, however, leading to a subdued outlook for net interest income (NII), a closely-watched earnings measure.

Santander said that NII in the fourth quarter reached a higher than expected 7.89 billion euros, up 2.3 percent from the same period a year earlier but down 1.2 percent from the previous three months.

In Brazil, which is mired in its worst downturn for decades, net profit fell 12.2 percent from a year earlier and was also down quarter on quarter.

A depreciating Brazilian real hurts Santander's income when translated into euros and charges to counter potential losses against soured debts also rose in the country quarter on quarter.