Spanish banking giant Banco Santander reported on Thursday record profits for 2022, becoming the latest European lender to get a boost from higher interest rates.

The bank posted an annual net profit of 9.6 billion euros ($10.6 billion), up 18 percent from 2021 and higher than forecast by analysts polled by financial data firm FactSet.

The result smashed the previous record annual profit of 9.06 billion euros seen in 2007, before the global financial crisis of 2008.

"2022 was another strong year for Santander as we made further progress in growing our customer base profitably, while maintaining a rock-solid balance sheet," Banco Santander head Ana Botin said.

Net profit in the fourth quarter hit 2.29 billion euros, up 1.0 percent from the same period a year ago, as higher loan provisions weighed down earnings.

Central banks have hiked interest rates worldwide in an effort to tame runaway inflation, which jumped after economies emerged from Covid restrictions, and surged higher still after Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

Banks across Europe have benefited from higher borrowing costs.

BBVA -- Spain's second-biggest lender by market value after Santander -- posted a 38 percent jump in net profit on Wednesday to a record 6.42 billion euros in 2022.

And on Thursday Germany's largest lender, Deutsche Bank, said it booked its highest annual profit since 2007 last year, thanks to higher interest rates.

- Client growth -

Botin said central banks and governments are expected to continue to focus on bringing down inflation this year.

"Our team has proven experience in navigating these conditions successfully and we expect revenue growth will continue to offset cost inflation pressures and the anticipated increase in cost of risk," she said.


Santander head Ana Botin discusses the lender's 2022 results at a news conference / © AFP

The bank, which has a strong presence in Europe and Latin America, added seven million new clients last year, bringing its worldwide total to 160 million.

This helped total loans to increase by 5.0 percent and deposits to rise 9.0 percent.

Santander's net interest income, the equivalent of its revenue, rose 16 percent to reach 38.6 billion euros, slightly higher than forecast by FactSet.

The lender said it expects to post double-digit revenue growth in 2023 despite the rise in costs due to inflation and a rocky outlook for the global economy.

While the sharp rise in inflation led to a seven percent rise in overall costs, the bank said it had continued to improve productivity last year, aided by a growing number of customers doing their banking online.

Santander said its cost-to-income ratio -- an efficiency indicator which is the ratio of total costs to total income of the bank -- was 45.8 percent in 2022, inching up from 45.4 percent in the previous year.

It said this is one of the best levels of Europe's major banks.

- Temporary tax -

The bank confirmed that shareholders would receive a payout of around 40 percent of the group's underlying profit, divided equally between cash dividends and share buybacks.

Spain's left-wing government plans to impose a temporary windfall tax on big banks in 2023 and 2024 to finance measures aimed at helping households cope with higher prices.

The measure is expected to add 1.5 billion euros to the state budget this year and a similar amount in 2024.

Botin estimated the tax will cost Santander between 220 million euros and 230 million euros in 2023.

Santander is mulling challenging the new tax in court, she told a news conference called to discuss the results, adding banks already pay more taxes than other firms.

"We absolutely agree that governments have to levy taxes...but everyone must pay," Botin said.

Santander said it paid 4.49 billion euros in tax on its profit in 2022, a "effective tax rate" of 29 percent.