Intesa Sanpaolo reports huge loss, boosts balance sheet

Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo reported a net loss of 4.55 billion euros for 2013 on Friday, after huge asset writedowns to strengthen its balance sheet in readiness for stress tests.

The bank, the second-biggest in Italy, turned in a net loss of 5.19 billion euros ($7.1 billion) in the last three months of the year.

That was caused by a charge for writedowns of 5.797 billion euros.

Excluding the effects of these asset depreciations, the outcome for the year was a profit of 1.218 billion euros, and for the last quarter a profit of 578 million euros.

The net outcome for 2013 was far worse than the result for 2012 when the bank made a net profit of 1.605 billion euros, including a loss of 83 million euros in the last quarter.

For 2013, analysts had expected the bank to write down the value of assets by 5.0-8.0 billion euros.

Along with other big banks in the eurozone, Intesa Sanpaolo will soon be judged by the European Central Bank and by the European Banking Authority on its ability to withstand financial shocks.

This procedure of new, tough stress tests is part of a new framework, including powers for the ECB, to ensure that the banking system can withstand major strains.

Other Italian banks have also cleaned out their balance sheets in order to strengthen their ratios of risks to shareholders' capital. UniCredit and BMPS have taken heavy losses for 2013 for this reason.

Intesa Sanpaolo said that its balance sheet was now "very strong" and that it was one of the few banks in the world which already met the new Basle III risk ratios in terms of capital and available funds.

The board recommended holding the dividend steady at 0.5 euros.

The bank also outlined its strategy up to 2017, targeting net profit of 4.5 billion euros, and a return on equity of 10.0 percent.