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UBI Q4 profit falls less than expected, unveils new bad loan sale

MILANO, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Italy's UBI Banca on Monday posted a sharp drop in fourth-quarter net profit due to costs borne to lay off staffs, but it still managed to significantly beat market expectations and it forecast higher earnings this year.

Italy's fifth-biggest bank reported a net profit of 60 million euros ($66 million) for the three months through December, down 72% from a year earlier, but well above an analyst consensus distributed by the bank of 24 million euros.

Net interest income - a measure of how much money a bank makes from its core lending business - fell 6.6% in the fourth quarter, hit by the current low interest rate environment. But revenues drew support from an increase in fees and trading income.

UBI said it was studying a new sale of bad loans worth 800 million euros, forecasting gross impaired loans would fall to 6.9% of total lending after the proposed sale compared with 7.8% at the end of December.

The bank said it would pay a cash dividend of 0.13 euro cents per share, up from 0.12 euro cents it paid over 2018 results. UBI said it expected to further raise dividend payments for the current year. ($1 = 0.9133 euros) (Reporting by Andrea Mandalà; editing by Valentina Za)