Santander net profit plunges

Spanish bank Santander, the biggest in the eurozone by market value, said Thursday its net profit plunged in 2012 as it wrote off nearly 19 billion euros ($26 billion) for dodgy loans and for property assets in Spain.

The charges slashed net profit last year by nearly 60 percent but left Santander's balance sheet looking more secure.

The group said it made 12.7 billion euros in provisions for non-performing loans and another 6.1 billion euros for Spanish real estate exposure -- 18.8 billion euros in total.

A property market collapse in 2008 left Spain's banks awash with bad loans and destroyed millions of jobs.

The banking sector as a whole is expected to book more than 80 billion euros in new provisions on their 2012 accounts under a Spanish government drive to clean up their books.

The provisions in 2012 left Santander with 73 percent of its bad loans covered, up from 61 percent previously. They also allowed the bank to meet new Spanish legislation requiring better coverage of real estate exposure.

The bank said net profit dropped 59 percent from the level the previous year to 2.2 billion euros in 2012, after declining by 35 percent in 2011.

Stripping out the huge charges, however, Santander said its would have boosted net profit by about 2.0 percent to 23.6 billion euros.

"Profits reached a turning point in 2012," chairman Emilio Botin said in a statement.

"In 2013, with the exceptional write-offs behind us, we should see a marked increase in earnings based on the group's recurrent revenues and cost control," he said.

Net interest income in 2012 rose 3.6 percent to 30.2 billion euros while gross income climbed 2.2 percent to 43.7 billion euros.

Spain last year won agreement for a rescue loan of up to 100 billion euros from the eurozone to finance a banking sector clean-up.

Four Spanish banks and a so-called bad bank that has taken over many risky loans have received 39.5 billion euros so far from the European Union credit.

Santander and another bank BBVA are among the few that have not had to ask for outside aid.

Santander said its doubtful loans rose to 4.54 percent of total loans in 2012 from 3.89 percent a year earlier.

In Spain, the bad loan ratio was higher -- at 6.74 percent compared to 5.49 percent a year earlier -- but well below the industry average, the bank stressed.

Santander said the global spread of its business allowed it to resist the headwinds in Europe.

Latin America contributed 50 percent of its profits -- and Brazil alone 26 percent -- while Spain accounted for 15 percent, Britain 13 percent and the United States 10 percent.

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