By Guillermo Parra-Bernal
SAO PAULO, Feb 14 (Reuters) - State-run Banco do Brasil SA downplayed concerns over profitability trends this year by pledging loan pricing discipline, as a steep fourth-quarter profit miss led analysts to put their recommendations on the stock under review.
Executives led by Chief Financial Officer Ivan Monteiro told investors on Friday that the bank will keep defaults stable, adjust the pricing of loans accordingly with an environment of higher interest rates in the country and maintain a longstanding policy of strict risk assessment of borrowers.
Loan-book growth and return-on-equity estimates could be raised if the outlook for risk and demand for credit improves, Monteiro said.
Banco do Brasil unveiled on Thursday guidance for loan-book expansion between 14 percent and 18 percent this year, and returns between 12 percent to 15 percent this year - which analysts considered too low.
"We are assuming a conservative view," Leo Loyola, head of investor relations at Banco do Brasil, said on the call. "While the higher rates impact funding right away, our top line only benefits from this situation after a lag time."
Shares of the Brasilia-based lender, the nation's largest bank by assets, tumbled a day earlier because of the weak earnings and concerns about future operational performance. Recurring net income, or profit excluding one-off items, was 2.424 billion reais ($1 billion), well below the 2.606 billion reais expected by analysts surveyed by Reuters.
Shares rose 1.0 percent on Friday, on top of Thursday's 4.9 percent slump, which was the worst daily drop since Nov. 12.
More modest disbursements coupled with efforts to expand credit in the least-risky segments will lead to low single-digit growth in interest income, Loyola said.
"On the asset side, given the duration of our credit portfolio, it's hard for us to pass through the higher interest rates," Loyola added.
On Friday, Credit Suisse Securities analysts led by Marcelo Telles lowered their price target and recommendation on Banco do Brasil.
"With low profitability and large capital requirements in the coming years... Banco do Brasil has no option other than fostering capital discipline, slowing down growth and working to boost its earnings power," Telles said.
Bradesco BBI analysts led by Carlos Firetti cut their recommendation on Banco do Brasil's shares to "market perform" from "outperform" and put the price target under review.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc analyst Carlos Macedo also put his recommendation and target on review, citing the "disappointing" results and guidance.
The lender's cautious guidance comes as Brazil's economy enters what is expected to be a fourth straight year of anemic growth, and data points to tepid consumption and job creation trends, which could hamper Banco do Brasil and its peers.
Recurring return on equity, a gauge of profitability among banks, fell to 14.2 percent in the quarter, below the poll's 15.7 percent average estimate and the lowest level for the indicator since at least 2006.