UniCredit, the Italian banking giant, has outperformed profit expectations for the third quarter, although it remains cautious amid uncertainties in the financial landscape.
Despite the boost from rising interest rates that has fueled record bank profits recently, UniCredit is preparing for potential challenges ahead.
CEO Andrea Orcel noted that loan volumes have decreased, especially in Germany where they stagnated and declined by 3% in Italy. This decline in loan volumes, coupled with persistent high inflation and geopolitical risks, has raised concerns about the stability of the market.
UniCredit reported a significant increase in net interest income (NII) for the third quarter, up 45% year-on-year, contributing to a net profit of €2.3 billion ($2.5 billion).
This exceeded analysts’ consensus forecast of €1.9 billion and represented a substantial improvement from the previous year.
However, investors were spooked when Italy introduced a surprise one-off tax on NII in August, only to later provide the option for banks to set aside cash as reserves instead of paying the tax.
UniCredit has decided to set aside €1.1 billion as reserves, a move expected to be followed by most other banks, including market leader Intesa Sanpaolo.
UniCredit has slightly increased its 2023 revenue outlook, primarily due to the higher NII. Still, it has kept its profit and investor reward goals unchanged as it assesses how to best utilize its “exceptional” earnings growth.
UniCredit aims for a net profit of at least €7.25 billion in 2023, with a significant portion to be allocated for dividends and share buybacks. CEO Orcel expressed confidence in meeting these goals in 2024.
UniCredit is also exploring various options for capital allocation, including extraordinary share buybacks if there are no better investment opportunities.
The bank is striving to reduce its reliance on NII and has set a long-term goal of adding €1.2 billion in annual fees.
As part of this strategy, UniCredit recently acquired a 9% stake in Alpha Bank and established a commercial partnership with the Greek lender.
Additionally, UniCredit merged its Romanian unit with Alpha Bank’s, demonstrating its commitment to expanding fee-based businesses.
Orcel’s focus on capital-efficient operations and a reduction in risk-weighted assets has bolstered UniCredit’s core capital to 17.2% of RWAs, up from 16.6% in June.
After obtaining supervisory clearance, UniCredit plans to buy back shares with €2.5 billion of 2023 profit by year-end, which would slightly lower the core capital to 16.3%.