UniCredit Fourth-Quarter Profit Soars

UniCredit said Thursday that fourth-quarter net profit more than tripled, boosted by good volume growth in Italy and Central Eastern Europe and higher net interest income.

The Milan-based bank said net profit for the period came to 893 million euros ($1.18 billion), more than three times the 287 million euros ($381.5 million) reported a year earlier.

UniCredit's 2006 acquisition of Germany's HVB and its Bank Austria unit made the bank the No. 1 player in Central and Eastern Europe. The Italian lender has a market capitalization of over 71 billion euros ($94.3 billion).

For the full year, UniCredit posted a net profit of 5.45 billion euros ($7.2 billion), up 61% from pro forma earnings of 3.37 billion euros ($4.48 billion) the previous year. A consensus posted on the UniCredit Web site forecast net profit at 5.36 billion euros ($7.1 billion).

Fourth-quarter net interest income rose 10% to 3.43 billion euros ($4.56 billion) from 3.11 billion euros ($4.13 billion) a year earlier while for the full year it rose 6.8% to 12.86 billion euros ($17.09 billion).

In 2006, net interest income boosted UniCredit's net profit of its Central Eastern Europe operations by 41.3% to 883 million euros ($1.1 billion).

UniCredit said fourth-quarter operating costs rose 2.4% to 3.45 billion euros ($4.59 billion) due to restructuring and efficiencies and development projects.

The bank said it will propose a 0.24 euros ($0.32) dividend, up 9% from 0.22 euros ($0.29) a share the previous year.

UniCredit shares rose 2.1% to 6.95 euros ($9.25).