Spanish bank Santander said Wednesday its net profit edged up three percent last year to 5.97 billion euros ($6.5 billion), held back by an exceptional provision linked to a British insurance scandal.
The eurozone's biggest bank by market value joined its British counterparts in putting aside money to cover possible compensation costs for mis-selling payment protection insurance (PPI), which covers repayments on credit products for consumers who, for example, lose their jobs.
Santander -- whose top market is Britain -- said it had put away 600 million euros last year over the PPI scandal after it emerged that people who could never benefit from the insurance, such as those on state benefits, were nevertheless sold policies.
All in all, Santander has over the years put aside 1.5 billion pounds to address the PPI scandal and Ana Botin, the group's executive chairwoman, told reporters she hoped there would be no more provisions.
Without the latest exceptional charge, net profit would have climbed 12.9 percent to 6.57 billion euros, but this would still have missed the 6.92 billion forecast by analysts surveyed by financial data provider, Factset.
Net interest income, a key measure of profitability from lending operations, rose by 8.9 percent to 32.19 billion euros.
- 'Year of change' -
The bank suffered less than its Spanish counterparts when the country's property bubble popped in 2008, thanks to its extensive international operations.
Britain remains Santander's top market, ahead of recession-hit Brazil and Spain.
In Brazil, earnings were hurt by the plunge of the real, but net profit still amounted to 1.63 billion euros.
But its exposure to Latin America's biggest economy, which entered into recession in the second quarter of last year and is going through political turbulence, has hurt the bank.
Shares in Santander have dropped more than 36 percent over the past 12 months, and on Wednesday they fell a further 1.1 percent mid-afternoon to 3.95 euros.
"The environment is complicated and we think it will continue to be in 2016," Botin said, adding that the bank still aimed to gain new customers and reduce costs.
In Spain, which is starting to recover from a damaging economic crisis but is currently in a political deadlock following inconclusive December elections, the bank saw net profits rise 18.2 percent to 977 million euros.
It hopes to keep profiting from the economic recovery although Botin acknowledged that "the uncertainty isn't helping."
Carlos Peixoto, an analyst at BPI bank, said 2015 had been "a year of change" for Santander under the leadership of Botin.
In January, the group raised 7.5 billion euros in capital to boost its solvency and finance its internal growth, which did not stop it from buying out Portugal's Banif financial group.
The ratio of bad loans dropped to 4.36 percent at the end of 2015, down from 5.19 percent at the end of 2014.
And Santander said a key measure of the funds it has to weather adverse financial events -- fully-loaded CET capital -- had risen to 10.05 percent from 9.65 at the end of 2014.
The bank aims to achieve a ratio above 11 percent in 2018.