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MADRID, Feb 3 (Reuters) - The euro zone's biggest bank, Santander, on Tuesday posted a near 70 percent jump in fourth-quarter profit and said loans to clients were up on the year as new boss Ana Botin steers a lending drive.
The Spanish bank said net income in the October-December quarter grew to 1.46 billion euros ($1.65 billion), helped in part by falling charges against soured debts.
That was slightly below forecasts for a 1.47-billion-euro profit in a Reuters poll of analysts, although net interest income, a measure of earnings on loans minus deposit costs, was stronger than expected.
Net loans to customers across the group grew 7.3 percent year on year, after shrinking in 2013, and the bank said in a presentation that it aimed to increase credit at a faster pace than global rivals in the next two years.
Santander is betting on an economic recovery in its home market and hubs such as Britain to raise earnings, as losses on property loans in Spain fade and it comes through a management overhaul.
Botin, who took over last September, bolstered Santander's capital levels with a 7.5-billion-euro share placement last month to back that expansion.
Her plan marks a shift from the serial acquisitions of her late father, former chairman Emilio Botin, though she has said she wants to preserve Santander's sprawling international presence, which has helped shield the group from local crises.
Santander reported weaker results for the whole of 2014 in Latin America - a region which had previously helped it weather woes in Spain - with profits in Brazil dropping 1.3 percent from a year earlier as the economy faltered.
$1 = 0.8829 euros Reporting by Sarah White and Jesus Aguado; editing by Paul Day and Jason Neely