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Santander Profit Rises

04/28/2015 | 02:06am US/Eastern

MADRID-- Banco Santander SA said Tuesday that first-quarter net profit rose to EUR1.72 billion ($1.87 billion) from EUR1.3 billion reported a year earlier, compared with EUR1.69 billion forecast by analysts in a FactSet poll.

The Spanish lender, the eurozone's largest by market value, said net interest income was EUR8.04 billion, up from the EUR6.99 billion reported a year earlier. Analysts had put the figure at EUR7.83 billion.

Net interest income, a key driver of profit for retail banks such as Santander, is the difference between what lenders pay clients for deposits and charge for loans.

A strengthening Spanish economic recovery has helped to buoy revenue growth in Santander's home market in recent quarters. The Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Monday that the government expects the country's economy to expand by 2.9% this year, up from the previous target of 2.4%.

Despite the economic recovery, many individuals and businesses in Spain remain focused on paying down existing loans, eschewing new loans. The deleveraging process is an uphill battle for Executive Chairman Ana Botín as she seeks to grow Santander's loan book in Spain to further boost profitability.

Ms. Botín, who took the helm at Santander following her father's death in September, must also address investor and analysts" concerns about weak growth in Brazil, which generates around one-fifth of Santander's net profit.

Institutional investors in January welcomed Santander's sale of EUR7.5 billion in new shares, a move meant to quiet perennial concerns that the lender's balance sheet was weaker than its peers.

The bank should strengthen its capital cushion even more, Barclays PLC analysts wrote in a research report last month. "Although Santander's capital position is now much improved, we don't think it is yet in quite the right place," the analysts wrote.

Write to Jeannette Neumann at jeannette.neumann@wsj.com

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