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U.S. consumer confidence rebounds to pre-crisis levels in first quarter: Nielsen

LONDON (Reuters) – U.S. consumer sentiment rose sharply in the first quarter as optimism about the economic outlook improved, according to a global survey which also showed rising confidence in debt-laden euro zone countries.

Globally, consumer confidence returned to pre-financial crisis levels in the first three months of this year, at its highest since the first quarter of 2007, the survey by global information and insights company Nielsen showed on Wednesday.

Improving job prospects are bolstering consumer sentiment. Nearly half of survey respondents globally, or 49 percent, expected the job market would be good or excellent in the upcoming year and positive perceptions about local job prospects over the next 12 months increased in the first quarter in every region except Latin America.

Consumer confidence was highest in the Asia Pacific and Indonesia was the most upbeat market globally for a fifth straight quarter, followed by India.

Croatia and Italy were the most pessimistic markets.

The Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence Index rose 2 points in the first quarter to 96, according to the survey, conducted between February 17 and March 7. A reading below 100, however, signals still relatively low consumer morale.

Consumer confidence in the United States hit the 100 mark, rising 6 points from the previous quarter, and 44 percent of respondents said they were putting spare cash into savings accounts, up from 39 percent in the previous quarter.

“Recovery gained forward momentum in the U.S. as the world’s largest economy reported improving unemployment numbers and rising equity and home prices,” said Venkatesh Bala, chief economist at The Cambridge Group, a part of Nielsen. “While the number of Americans who felt mired in recession is still high (63 percent), the sharp improvement from the fourth quarter is an encouraging sign.”

Confidence among American consumers should continue to increase although that will depend on further improvement in the labor and housing markets and on sound economic policy, he said.

“Unexpected spikes in interest rates, gasoline prices or impact from major geopolitical events are potential risks. At this point of time, such risks appear to be fairly contained, so one can anticipate slow yet meaningful improvements in consumer confidence in coming quarters,” Venkatesh said.

While confidence in debt-laden euro zone economies remained weak it improved sharply in some markets, jumping eight points in both France and Greece from the fourth quarter of last year and rising 7 points in Portugal.

That supports recent data indicating that euro zone countries that were hardest hit by the debt crisis are slowly picking up.

Consumer sentiment fell sharply in Ukraine in the first three months of this year amid a political crisis and tensions with Russia, which annexed the Crimea region last month.

Ukraine saw the biggest drop in consumer sentiment of the 60 markets covered in the survey. Its score fell by 7 points to 56. Egypt saw the biggest jump in confidence, by 11 points to 87.

The Nielsen survey covered more than 30,000 online consumers across 60 markets.

Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence Index in the first quarter, 2014 (change from Q4 survey in brackets):

Top 10 index readings Bottom 10 index readings

Indonesia 124 (0) Romania, Finland 67 (+5,0)

India 121 (+6) Spain 61 (+3)

Philippines 116 (+2) France 59 (+8)

UAE 114 (+4) Ukraine 56 (-7)

Hong Kong/China 111 (+6,0) Hungary 54 (+3)

Thailand 108 (-1) Greece 53 (+8)

Brazil 106 (-4) Serbia 52 (-2)

Switzerland 104 (+10) South Korea, Portugal 51 (+2,+7)

Saudi Arabia 102 (+1) Slovenia 48 (+4)

Peru 101 (-1) Croatia, Italy 45 (+1,+1)


Global consumer confidence average 96 (+2)

United States 100 (+6)

Germany 99 (+4)

UK 87 (+3)

Japan 81 (+1)

Source: Nielsen

(Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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Switzerland, Norway are world’s most expensive economies

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Switzerland and Norway are the world’s most expensive economies, followed by Bermuda, Australia and Denmark, according to a new ranking by the World Bank.

The economies with the lowest prices are Egypt, Pakistan, Myanmar, Ethiopia and Laos, according to a review of economic data which seeks to compensate for exchange rate effects and measure spending power across countries.

The United States, the world’s largest economy, was in relatively affordable 25th place, lower than most other high-income countries.

The richest countries, or those with the highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita on a purchasing power parity basis, were Qatar, Macao, Luxembourg, Kuwait, and Brunei.

Eight countries, including Malawi, Mozambique and Liberia, had GDP per capita of less than $1,000.

Almost half the world’s $90.6 trillion in total economic output in 2011 came from low- and middle-income countries, the World Bank said.

Compared to the last time the exercise was done in 2005, with a slightly different methodology and mix of countries, middle-income countries gained a bigger share of the world economy, at the expense of both high- and low-income peers.

(Reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Twitter disappoints again on user growth and views; shares drop

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Twitter Inc reported lackluster user and usage growth for the second consecutive quarter on Tuesday, deepening investor concerns about its struggle to gain a mass following.

Twitter’s stock fell more than 10 percent after hours to $38.05, below its post-initial public offering low of $38.80 on November 25.

Perhaps most worrying, the San Francisco-based company said its 255 million monthly users, on average, appeared to check the service less frequently than a year ago.

The results revealed slowing momentum at a company that exuberant investors just six months ago had argued could one day match Facebook Inc’s scale. At its peak in December, Twitter enjoyed a $46 billion market capitalization on just $665 million of revenue in 2013, making it one of the world’s priciest stocks.

But cracks began to show in February, when Twitter disclosed that user growth had fallen to its lowest rate in years, prompting Chief Executive Dick Costolo to promise tweaks to Twitter’s design.

Expectations of Twitter growing into a communications utility that Facebook has become are “unrealistic and divorced from reality,” said Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research. “Twitter is and will remain a niche medium, and a very powerful one.”

On a conference call Tuesday, Costolo repeatedly told Wall Street analysts that tweets from the Academy Awards show in March have been viewed more than 3 billion times online and mentioned countless times more on radio and television shows.

“Twitter – the platform – we believe is already incredibly mainstream,” Costolo said. The challenge, he added, was to convince the world to see the “value of the logged-in experience.”


Although overshadowed by the usage figures, Twitter posted better-than-expected revenues of $250 million. The company, which has been steadily refining its targeting capabilities, also showed signs it is better able to present ads based on what it thinks each user would be interested in, and is thus able to command higher ad prices.

Twitter said its advertising revenue per thousand timeline views, which measures the effectiveness of its ads, nearly doubled to $1.44 over the past year.

Excluding certain items, Twitter broke even against Wall Street expectations of a 3 cent per share loss. But the company said its net loss in absolute terms widened nearly fivefold to $132 million from $27 million a year ago.

In May, shareholders can sell to sell up to 489 million shares, or 83 percent of Twitter shares outstanding. The company said Tuesday it would not hold a secondary sale to avoid flooding public markets with employee shares.

Twitter said in a securities filing earlier this month that co-founders Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams, as well as Costolo and venture capital firm Benchmark had no intention of selling their shares upon the lockup’s expiration.

(Reporting by Gerry Shih; Editing by David Gregorio and Richard Chang)

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Ex-AIG chief Greenberg must face judge he called biased

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Former AIG chief Maurice “Hank” Greenberg will have to defend himself against claims of accounting fraud in a non-jury trial conducted by a judge he tried to remove for alleged bias.

Justice Charles Ramos of New York state court on Tuesday ruled against Greenberg’s demand for a jury to hear the civil case brought by the New York attorney general.

Earlier this month, a New York appeals court rejected Greenberg’s attempt to remove Ramos from the long-running case. Greenberg claimed Ramos was biased against him and could not preside over a fair trial.

Ramos ruled from the bench in the latest legal wrangling in the 2005 case that accuses Greenberg and the insurer’s former chief financial officer, Howard Smith, of orchestrating sham transactions at the insurer to hide its financial condition.

A spokeswoman for Greenberg’s lawyer, David Boies, declined to comment on losing the bid for a jury.

Attorney Vincent Sama, who represents Smith, who also sought a jury trial, said he may appeal the ruling.

Ramos also heard arguments by the executives’ lawyers on their motions to dismiss the case.

Boies said the lawsuit could not be pursued because Schneiderman no longer had “a viable remedy.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who inherited the case, was forced to drop his claims for as much as $6 billion in damages last year after a class action settlement between AIG shareholders and the executives and others over the allegedly improper accounting.

The attorney general is now seeking “ill-gotten gains” from Greenberg’s compensation, according to attorney David Ellenhorn, who represents Schneiderman.

He also wants to bar the executives from serving as officers or directors of public companies and from participating in the securities business.

Boies argued that Greenberg, 88, has no intention of engaging in the securities business or in acting as a director or officer of a public company.

Greenberg is the chairman and chief executive of the privately held C.V. Starr Co, which owns Starr Principal Holdings, a registered security adviser. “He is controlling a company that is in the securities business,” Ellenhorn said.

Boies said Greenberg didn’t participate in the management of Starr Principal Holdings or its investment activity.

“That’s nice, but it’s not the whole picture,” Ramos said. “It sounds as if he’s a control person…it opens the door to that influence.”

Still, Ramos did not rule on whether the lawsuit, which was originally brought by former New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer, should proceed to trial.

Greenberg led AIG for nearly four decades before he was ousted in 2005. The next year, AIG paid $1.64 billion to settle federal and state probes into its business practices.

The case is People v Greenberg, et al, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 401720/2005.

(Reporting By Karen Freifeld; Editing by Ken Wills)

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EBay beefs up U.S. war chest in pursuit of growth

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – EBay Inc is preparing to bring a major portion of its foreign earnings back into the United States, hoping to bankroll acquisitions and drive an expansion into mobile payments and other high-growth areas as its core business matures.

Ebay, which on Tuesday forecast lower-than-expected earnings this quarter, also plans to ramp up its marketing spending on PayPal, which is an Internet leader but faces stiff competition in the fledgling smartphone payments market.

The company took a $3 billion non-cash tax charge in the first quarter. The move will allow eBay to boost its available U.S. cash by about $6 billion, when needed.

It ended the first quarter with cash, cash equivalents and nonequity investments of $11.9 billion, though just $2.2 billion of that is in the United States.

“If you look at our last 15 acquisitions, my guess is 10 have been inside the U.S., maybe 11,” Chief Executive John Donahoe said in an interview. “Just looking at that versus where our cash is located, you just say, alright it would make more sense to have more cash in the U.S. for MA.”

Shares of eBay fell about 4 percent to about $52.25 in after-hours trading despite posting a higher-than-expected first-quarter profit. Ebay’s second-quarter profit outlook fell short of analyst estimates.

During the first quarter, eBay repurchased 33.1 million common shares for about $1.8 billion as part of its previously announced $5 billion share buyback program.

The quarterly scorecard came a few weeks after activist investor Carl Icahn dropped his campaign to force eBay to spin out its most attractive division, PayPal.

Icahn’s push to carve off PayPal emerged in January, but he backed down after his efforts failed to gain the support of eBay investors. Donahoe said Icahn’s campaign did not shape eBay’s decision to repatriate foreign earnings to fund U.S. growth.

The reality is we’re seeing growing opportunities in the U.S.,” Chief Financial Officer Bob Swan said during a call with analysts. “Additionally, we are an acquisitive company and we need to ensure we have the resources available to capitalize on targets that become available both domestically and abroad.”


EBay declined to say how it would use the extra cash in the United States, but Donahoe said eBay’s approach to acquisitions would be consistent with years past. He pointed to last year’s acquisition of payment gateway Braintree as an example of how eBay would build on its businesses such as PayPal.

PayPal has been a key driver of eBay’s share value, as the company vies with larger rival Inc, and analysts expect the unit to remain a fast-growing business as it expands into offline payments.

“If you look at what is happening in the world of commerce and payments, there is a lot of action and a lot of activity,” Donahoe said during a conference call. “And so we continuously assess opportunities to where we think it will be strategically and financially valuable to extend our platforms.”

The company earned 70 cents per share during the quarter, better than the average analyst estimate of 67 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. But eBay forecast a second-quarter profit between 67 cents and 69 cents, less than the 70 cents per share expected by Wall Street.

Some investors were expecting an even larger first-quarter beat after Carl Icahn ended his campaign to force eBay to spin out PayPal earlier this month, Wedbush Securities analyst Gil Luria said.

EBay’s revenue rose a slightly better-than-expected 14 percent to $4.26 billion. PayPal, eBay’s fastest-growing division, posted a nearly one-fifth increase in revenue.

“Investors assumed that’s because the results were very good and Mr. Icahn was content with what he was seeing,” Luria said.

“Expectations were very high going into the quarter,” he said. “The results were good, but not as good as some expected.”

(Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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Alstom accepts 10 billion euro GE bid for its energy unit

PARIS/FRANKFURT (Reuters) – The board of Alstom (ALSO.PA) accepted General Electric’s (GE.N) 10 billion euro ($13.82 billion) bid for its energy unit on Tuesday, several sources familiar with the situation told Reuters.

Sources said GE is not in exclusive talks with Alstom. The French transport-to-turbines group is also set to receive an offer from its much larger German competitor Siemens AG (SIEGn.DE), which said it had sent a letter to Alstom after its managing and supervisory boards had decided to make an offer.

Alstom is expected to make a statement about the two offers early on Wednesday, before its shares, suspended since late last week, resume trading.

The rival bids have triggered a fierce national debate about the fate of power turbine and train manufacturing in France – both integral to the country’s engineering pedigree. The French government has said it favors the Siemens offer, which via an asset swap would create two European sector champions: Siemens in electricity and Alstom in trains.

“Alstom’s board has accepted the GE offer, it will be examined by an independent committee,” one source close to the talks told Reuters.

“The two groups will not enter into exclusive negotiations. This means Alstom cannot go and look for other offers, but there is nothing to stop it from examining offers it receives without soliciting them,” the source added.

Earlier on Tuesday, Germany’s Siemens (SIEGn.DE) said it would make an offer to Alstom if given four weeks to examine its books and draw up a detailed plan to rival a move by GE.

“The prerequisite is that Alstom agrees to give Siemens access to the company’s data room and permission to interview the management during a period of four weeks, to enable Siemens to carry out a suitable due diligence,” Siemens said.

It gave no further details of its plans, but at the weekend Siemens approached Alstom with a proposal to exchange part of its train business plus cash for Alstom’s power arm. In a short letter, it had outlined its proposal worth $14.5 billion.


In a letter to French President Francois Hollande, published by financial daily Les Echos and authenticated by GE, GE Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt responded to several of the French government’s key concerns about the U.S.-based firm’s offer.

Immelt said that if GE were to buy Alstom’s energy unit, it would boost employment in France and locate global headquarters for several key businesses in the country, including for grids, hydro power, offshore wind and steam turbines.

GE would also work with the French government, utility EDF (EDF.PA) and nuclear group Areva (AREVA.PA) to protect France’s strategic nuclear sector and its exports and would be willing to sell Alstom’s wind turbine activities to French investors.

GE also offered France a representative for its board, and offered to look into the possibility of a transportation joint-venture with the remaining transport activities of Alstom, which are widely considered to be too small to survive independently.


France’s Socialist government has declared that it must have a say in the outcome of the bidding war, as thousands of jobs are at stake and state-owned utility EDF (EDF.PA) and the national railways are major clients of Alstom.

“There aren’t only financial interests at stake in this matter; there are also industrial, social and human interests,” Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg said after a meeting with unions. “The government does indeed intend to defend our country’s interests.”

Alstom CEO Patrick Kron informed Montebourg of GE’s interest last week.

Just over a week before Siemens boss Joe Kaeser presents his future vision for the Munich-based conglomerate, investors in Siemens were sceptical about a potential deal.

“We would have preferred a less risky strategy of organic growth,” said Tim Albrecht, fund manager at DWS Investment.

A fund manager who declined to be named said: “Until last week, Alstom was seen as dead, and its products were not thought to be competitive.”

He said a purchase would be a 180-degree turn and Siemens would need very good arguments to justify it strategically.

Some investors may also be wary of a French-German deal, given problems with previous cross-border tie-ups, such as defence and aerospace company EADS (AIR.PA) and drugmaker Aventis, which have both been plagued by battles for control.

Many analysts and investors said they believed the Siemens move was primarily defensive.

Rob Virdee, analyst at Espirito Santo Investment Bank, said the offer looked like a move to stop GE’s expansion in Europe.

Industry veterans say Alstom and Siemens have very different corporate cultures, and have competed aggressively against one another for decades.

An industry insider told Reuters that no one at Alstom wants a deal with Siemens because everyone, from the low-level worker to Kron, recalls how Siemens lobbied aggressively against state aid for Alstom when it almost went belly-up in 2004.

Siemens shares closed up 0.6 percent compared with a 1.5 percent rise in shares on the blue-chip DAX .GDAXI index.

($1 = 0.7237 Euro)

(Additional reporting by Arno Schuetze and Sabine Wollrab in Frankfurt, Irene Preisinger in Munich, Benjamin Mallet, Mark John, Geert De Clercq and Gregory Blachier in Paris, Lewis Krauskopf in New York, and Sophie Sassard in London; Writing by Andrew Callus, Mark John, Madeline Chambers and Geert De Clercq; editing by Will Waterman and David Gregorio)

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Standard & Poors downgrades 15 European banks, cites reforms

(Reuters) – Ratings agency Standard Poors said it has downgraded 15 European banks, including Barclays (BARC.L) Credit Suisse (CSGN.VX) and Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE), after European lawmakers agreed on a framework that prevents governments from having to bail out troubled banks.

The European Parliament signed off this month on new laws to make it easier – and less costly for taxpayers – to wind down problem banks, after long wrangling over rules for an industry blamed for triggering the worst economic slump in a generation.

SP said extraordinary government support for these banks would likely diminish as regulators implement the reforms, downgrading them to ‘negative’ from ‘stable.

The banks, many of which are systemically important, also included ABN AMRO, Bank Of Ireland and ING Bank.

“We observe similar powers coming into force in Liechtenstein and Norway, and already in place in Switzerland, which are not EU members,” the ratings agency added.

SP also raised its ratings on Danske Bank (DANSKE.CO) and Argenta Spaarbank ARGSP.UL, while keeping ‘negative’ outlooks on 38 banks and ‘stable’ outlooks on 15 banks. It maintained its CreditWatch rating on five banks, with negative implications.

(Reporting by Richa Naidu in Bangalore; Editing by David Gregorio)

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Wall Street ends up on earnings, rebound in high-growth shares

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks rose on Tuesday, boosted by upbeat results from companies including Merck Co and a rebound in Facebook and other high-growth shares.

Merck Co (MRK.N)’s shares climbed 3.6 percent to $58.72, giving the SP 500 its biggest lift, after it reported stronger-than-expected earnings.

Further deal activity on the healthcare front also lifted the market. Britain’s Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc (RB.L) confirmed talks to buy Merck’s consumer health business, the latest asset up for grabs in a wave of recent pharmaceutical deals.

“Investors are viewing (that activity) as a signal for positive conditions in which businesses are willing and able to offer substantial sums of cash and/or stocks,” said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia.

Also supportive: most SP 500 companies are beating earnings forecasts, albeit on lowered expectations, he said.

Earnings estimates have rebounded, however, as more companies have reported results. First-quarter profit growth for SP 500 companies is seen at 3.7 percent, based on actual results and estimates for companies yet to report, compared with a forecast for 2.1 percent growth at the beginning of the month, Thomson Reuters data showed.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 86.63 points or 0.53 percent, to 16,535.37, the SP 500 .SPX gained 8.9 points or 0.48 percent, to 1,878.33 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 29.142 points or 0.72 percent, to 4,103.543.

Shares of Facebook (FB.O), up 3.6 percent at $58.15, led the way higher on the Nasdaq, a day after selling off along with a host of other momentum names.

Shares of Twitter (TWTR.N) jumped 4.6 percent to $42.62 ahead of its results after the bell, when it reported 255 million monthly active users, up from the previous quarter but not enough to satisfy investors. The stock was down 10.2 percent in after-hours trading.

Also after the bell, shares of eBay (EBAY.O) fell 3.8 percent to $52.45 as its second-quarter forecast fell short of estimates.

During the regular session, Sprint Corp (S.N) shares jumped 11.3 percent to $8.27. The No. 3 U.S. mobile provider reported an increase in quarterly revenue, as expected, due to a new billing plan that lowered wireless expenses.

On the down side, Coach Inc (COH.N) reported a sharp drop in North American sales and the stock slumped 9.3 percent to $45.71.

Archer Daniels Midland Co (ADM.N) finished down 2.6 percent at $43.23 after its first-quarter profit and sales missed Wall Street estimates.

About 6.3 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 6.6 billion average this month, according to data from BATS Global Markets.

The Fed’s two-day policy meeting began on Tuesday, with the central bank expected to again scale back its monthly bond purchase program. Investors will also be eager to get any guidance on when it might raise interest rates.

Data suggested the economy continued to gain momentum after the winter lull. U.S. consumer confidence dipped in April but remained near a six-year high, while home prices rose in February.

(Editing by Bernadette Baum and Nick Zieminski)

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Santander seeks Brazil unit buyout, sees Europe recovery

MADRID/SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Banco Santander SA (SAN.MC) launched a 4.7 billion euro ($6.5 billion) offer on Tuesday for the 25 percent of its Brazilian unit it does not already own, giving investors a chance to gain exposure to a budding recovery of the euro zone’s largest bank.

Under the proposed deal, minority investors in Banco Santander Brasil SA (SANB11.SA) would receive up to 665 million shares of the Madrid-based lender in a voluntary swap at the equivalent of 15.31 reais a share. That represents a 20 percent premium to Santander Brasil’s closing price on Monday.

Santander, which is emerging from Europe’s worst economic crisis in decades while still facing a weak Brazilian economy, hopes the buyout will help cut costs, boost returns and lure clients to Santander Brasil. Investors are undervaluing the potential of Santander Brasil, executives said.

“It’s a take-it-or-leave-it offer to gain exposure to Santander’s better momentum in Europe as we all recognize that much heavy lifting has to be done in Brazil,” said Mohammed Mourabet, who oversees $900 million in assets for Victoire Brasil Investimentos in São Paulo.

Santander Brasil shares soared 21 percent on Tuesday, their biggest intraday gain since the lender went public in October 2009, underscoring the potential success of the deal. The buyout, announced the same day Santander reported an 8 percent rise in first-quarter profit, is an exception to its strategy of listing foreign units whenever possible to raise cash.

“The offer price seems reasonable given that it is well above what we consider to be Santander Brasil’s stand-alone fair value,” said Saúl Martínez, a senior banking industry analyst with JPMorgan Securities in New York.

Santander Brasil shares have lost nearly half their value since the IPO because the bank failed to deploy capital in profitable activities, outperform competitors and gain scale.

“We can do better, and this is a first step to begin charting a new course,” Jesús Zabalza, chief executive of Santander Brasil, told investors on a call.

The buyout also reflects Santander’s confidence in its finances ahead of Europe’s toughest banking stress tests yet.

The plan would help group profits grow 7 percent in 2015 and in 2016, equivalent to a boost of 560 million euros in 2016.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) and UBS AG (UBSN.VX) are advising Santander. Santander shares, up more than 13 percent this year, closed 1.5 percent higher at 7.154 euros in Madrid.


Most analysts expect the deal, which executives hope to conclude by October, to succeed.

Faltering growth in Brazil is weighing on profitability at Santander’s Latin America division as Spain slowly emerges from one of its worst economic crisis ever. In the first quarter, Europe provided just over half of Santander’s net income, which rose to 1.3 billion euros. Profit in continental Europe rose 64 percent quarter on quarter and 53 percent on the year.

Its UK unit, where revenue in pounds rose 13 percent from the first quarter of 2013 on a sharp rise in margins and an improving economy, was now on par with Brazil in providing a fifth of total profits, Santander said.

Santander CEO Javier Marin said in January that a long-expected public offering of its UK unit would not take place in 2014, but occur in the “mid-term.

In Brazil, Santander’s profit dropped 27 percent from a year ago, while it rose 20.9 percent from the fourth quarter of 2013, taking into account currency fluctuations.

Profits at the parent company missed forecasts slightly. Non-performing loans in Spain and Brazil edged up slightly at the end of March from end December, even if at a group level the ratio dipped to 5.52 percent from 6.61 percent.

A buyout of minority shareholders of Santander’s listed units in Mexico and Chile looks “unlikely at this point, simply because doing so doesn’t appear to make the same kind of financial sense as it does in Brazil,” JPMorgan’s Martínez said.

($1 = 2.24 Brazilian reais)

(Additional reporting by Tomas Cobos and Steve Slater in London, and Aluísio Alves in São Paulo; Editing by Julien Toyer, Sophie Walker, John Stonestreet; Chizu Nomiyama and Steve Orlofsky)

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