* CEO upbeat on medium-term prospects
* Sees operating result declining in 2015
* Surprise with fourth quarter 2014 profit (Adds comments from analyst call, news conference)
By Michael Shields
VIENNA, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Erste Group will rebound to net profit this year from a record 2014 loss after tackling trouble spots Hungary and Romania, emerging Europe’s third largest lender said on Friday.
Erste, which showed progress with a surprise fourth-quarter profit, had started 2015 well and was poised to make money in all its markets in the years ahead, Chief Executive Andreas Treichl said.
“We now have a real chance that over the next two years we can operate profitably in all our markets and the two real problems that we had, Romania and Hungary, both look substantially better than they did last year,” he said.
He did however reiterate that the bank would make money in Hungary only next year.
“Our outlook in general for 2015, 2016, 2017 is no bad surprises any more,” he added, seeing Erste “in the best situation of all our competitors in the region.”
Rivals include market leader Bank Austria and Raiffeisen Bank International, which unlike Erste rely heavily on Russia for profits.
However, Erste forecast 2015 operating profit would fall around 5 percent below the 3.09 billion euros ($3.5 billion) it made in 2014.
Its shares trade at around 12 times the coming year’s forecast earnings, a premium to RBI which is on nine times. Erste shares gave up early gains to stand little changed at 23.46 euros by 1300 GMT.
Treichl said no big acquisitions were on the cards this year or next as it focuses on its current portfolio.
He hoped for regulatory clarity this year on what kind of dividend Erste can offer after ditching the payouts for 2014 and what level of capital it must hold. Its common equity tier 1 ratio stood at 10.6 percent at end-2014.
Erste would not sell any securities under the European Central Bank’s bond-buying programme, officials said.
It made a 42 million euro net profit in the fourth quarter as lending grew and asset quality improved, easily beating the average estimated loss of 33.6 million in a Reuters poll.
Hits from Hungary and Romania pushed Erste to a 1.44 billion euro 2014 loss, at the better end of the range it had flagged. ($1 = 0.8918 euros) (Additional reporting by Angelika Gruber; Editing by Keith Weir)