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Spain's Banco Santander says Fourth-Quarter Net Profit up 13%

Santander Central Hispano's net profit rose 13% in the fourth quarter, bolstered by asset sales and strong lending at core divisions, the Spanish bank said Thursday.

The euro zone's largest bank by market capitalization said net profit in the quarter rose to 2.65 billion euros ($3.43 billion) from 2.34 billion euros a year earlier.

Santander said fourth-quarter net interest income rose to 3.27 billion euros ($4.24 billion) from 2.91 billion euros, boosted by strong lending in Spain and Latin America.

In the fourth quarter, Santander's bottom line got a boost from 2.49 billion euros ($3.23 billion) in gains from sale of stakes in Inmobiliaria Urbis, Santander Chile, Antena 3 de Television and Sanpaolo IMI.

In the same period of 2005, Santander booked 1.1 billion euros in capital gains from asset sales.

Santander said that about 1.39 billion euros ($1.8 billion) coming from the asset sales were set aside for early retirement provisions and higher corporate taxes. The tax charges, stemming from legal modifications in deferred tax assets and liabilities, are expected to be offset by lower corporate tax rates in coming years.

For the full-year 2006, net profit rose to 7.60 billion euros ($9.85 billion) from 6.22 billion euros, bolstered by a 20% expansion in outstanding loans.

Santander said it would raise its 2006 dividend by 25% to 0.5206 euros ($0.67) a share.

Shares were down 0.1% at 14.46 euros ($18.73).