The euro zone's biggest bank Santander, posts a near 70 percent jump in fourth-quarter profit and says loans to clients are up on the year as new boss Ana Botin steers a lending drive. David Pollard reports
Ana Botin under the spotlight. The new boss of the euro zone's biggest bank took over last September. These results cover her first quarter in that role. Santander's net profts for the period slightly missed expectations. But were still up nearly 70 per cent on a year earlier. And analysts liked at an 11 per cent rise in group net interest income - a closely-watched measure of earnings from loans. Santander's on a major lending push. Betting on a recovery in its home market, Spain. And continued strength in the UK, a mortgage market boosted by state support for house buyers. Rich pickings for Santander, says Michael Hewson of CMC. But not without risks ahead of the country voting in May. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CMC, CHIEF MARKETS ANALYST, MICHAEL HEWSON, SAYING: ''The key concern for me is whether they're able to sustain that in the lead-up to the general election and beyond, because political uncertainty generally tends to affect banking shares adversely, particularly if they're significantly exposed to the mortgage market, which Santander are.'' The results boosted Santander shares by nearly three per cent . Though they're still close to a 12-month low hit last month after a surprise 7.5 billion euro share sale. As for Botin, investors say it's a promising start since she took over the helm from her father, Emilio - but just a start. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CMC, CHIEF MARKETS ANALYST, MICHAEL HEWSON, SAYING: ''We'll next to wait another six months to a year to see whether or not it's a continuation of her father's legacy or whether or not she's managed to stamp her own authority on the business.'' And with record low interest rates across the euro zone, bank margins are being squeezed. A tough test for Botin is still to come.