Banesto's Fourth-Quarter Profit Plummets 81%

Spain's Banco Espanol de Credito said Friday fourth-quarter net profit fell 81 percent, impacted by a large asset sale that was booked a year earlier.

The bank, Spain's fourth-largest by market capitalization, said quarterly net profit stood at 180.5 million euros ($264.65 million), down from 935.8 million euros in the year-earlier period.

The year-earlier profit figure included a gain of 845 million euros that the bank booked in the fourth quarter of 2006 from the sale of real-estate company Urbis. The bank also took tax related charges in the last quarter of 2006.

Net interest income in the quarter rose to 384.5 million euros ($563.75 million) from 327.1 million euros.

Total loans grew at a pace of just over 20 percent, holding up well despite the recent sharp slowdown in the country's housing market. Banesto had reported a 27 percent rise in the first half.

Shares Friday gained 0.3 percent, or 4 cents, to 11.80 euros ($17.30), in line with the Spanish market. The bank's shares are down about 11 percent since the beginning of the year on worries that earnings momentum for the banks will slow this year due to a rapidly deteriorating macroeconomic environment.

For the full year, Banesto's non-performing loan ratio rose to 0.47 percent of its credit portfolio, compared to 0.42 percent at the end of 2006.

Banesto is 89 percent owned by Spanish banking giant Santander Central Hispano.