Unicredit posts surprise profit for fourth quarter

Unicredit on Tuesday reported a surprise fourth-quarter net profit in a tough three months which saw the Italian lender cut 1,300 jobs and close 121 branches.

Net profit came in at 153 million euros ($171 million), against a 140 million euro loss forecast in an analyst consensus distributed by the company.

Shares in Unicredit were suspended ahead of the results after a 3.8 percent fall. They initially pared some of the losses when trade resumed but swiftly accelerated their decline to trade down 6 percent before they were once again suspended.

Shares in Italian banks have tumbled this year since the European Central Bank requested further information on their large portfolios of non-performing loans. However, Carlo Messina, the chief executive of Intesa Sanpaolo told CNBC on Monday that fears were overstated and the slump represented a "unique buying opportunity."

The slump comes amid reports that UniCredit's chief executive, Federico Ghizzoni, has lost the support of several influential shareholders. Sources familiar with the matter told Reuters they are frustrated with the bank's weak share price performance and think he should step aside.

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