Profits plunge as Santander confirms IPO

SANTANDER Group shocked the City yesterday, warning that full-year profits would not meet its target due to Spanish regulatory changes.

The warning came as the CEO of Santander UK, António Horta-Osório, confirmed that the UK business will go ahead with an IPO in 2011, probably in the first half of the year.

The IPO is expected to sell a 20-25 per cent stake in the UK business that will be used to recoup some of Santander Group’s £4.5bn outlay to buy 318 Royal Bank of Scotland branches.

The Eurozone’s largest bank is understood to have appointed Morgan Stanley as an adviser.

However, it is not clear if a 25 per cent float would be sufficient to repay the full £4.5bn investment from Banco Santander.

The group’s third-quarter results, announced yesterday, showed a sharp fall-off in profits, with quarterly pre-tax profits plunging to €2.5bn, 12 per cent down on last year. Year-to-date, earnings per share (EPS) have fallen 11.3 per cent to €0.70 per share. The UK business was not affected and posted a 20 per cent rise to pre-tax profit to £619m over the period.

Santander UK, which includes subsidiaries Alliance & Leicester, Bradford & Bingley and Abbey National, is showing strong growth.

The number of new accounts being opened in the UK is up 166 per cent on last year’s third quarter to 786,000 and small business lending increased 23 per cent.

Santander blames the group-wide overall fall on changes brought in by the Bank of Spain, claiming that without the change, EPS would have declined only 4.5 per cent. The new rules require more funds to be set aside as loan loss provisions.

But analysts were sceptical. Execution Noble’s Joseph Dickerson downgraded the stock, advising investors to sell: “You have rising costs, profit and loss going backwards and an ongoing deterioration in credit.”

S&P Equity Research also downgraded the stock, from “strong buy” to “buy”, with analyst Marco Troiano saying: “Excluding the regulatory, results were still slightly weaker than we expected on revenues.”