UniCredit raises 2023 goals after stronger than expected quarter

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FILE PHOTO: A view of the Unicredit headquarters of which many employees are working from home due to a coronavirus outbreak, in Milan

MILAN (Reuters) - UniCredit on Wednesday raised its financial targets for the year, after posting much stronger than expected first quarter earnings.

Solid results by Italy's only bank that regulators deem of global systemic relevance are the latest evidence of strength for a sector where a string of failures this year has shaken investors' confidence.

UniCredit forecast a 2023 profit above 6.5 billion euros ($7.2 billion), improving the guidance it gave earlier this year about broadly matching its 2022 result of 5.2 billion euros.

UniCredit slightly modified its definition of profit under its guidance, but the two numbers remain largely comparable, it said.

Net profit in the first three months came in at 2.06 billion euros, well above an average analyst forecast of 1.3 billion euros in a bank-provided consensus, boosted by a bigger than expected 18% yearly jump in revenues.

UniCredit, which under CEO Andrea Orcel has embarked on one of Europe's most ambitious capital distribution plans, said it would return 5.75 billion euros or more to shareholders through dividends and buybacks over 2023 results.

Core capital unexpectedly strengthened in the quarter to 16.05% of risk-weighted assets (RWAs), which it cut in the quarter by 3% helping to offset the use of capital to buy back the bank's own shares to lift returns for investors.

With the euro zone's official interest rates at a 15-year high, UniCredit said it expected to pocket more than 12.6 billion euros in 2023 from the gap between rates charged to borrowers and those paid to raise money.

Net interest income in the quarter topped analyst expectations rising 43.6% year-on-year to 3.3 billion euros, but net fees also unexpectedly strengthened 10.7% from the previous quarter surpassing forecasts at 2.0 billion euros.

Asked about a 1.6% decline in deposits in the quarter, Orcel told a media call the bank had such a solid liquidity position that it could afford to pursue profitability in managing its deposit base.

He said the portion of interest rate hikes that had been passed through to depositors had barely risen in the quarter to 22% from 20% at the end of last year, and was now projected at 30% in 2023 from 35-40% previously.

Analysts have said the confidence crisis in the sector could increase competition for deposits, hurting banks' funding costs.

($1 = 0.9071 euros)

(Reporting by Valentina Za, editing by Cristina Carlevaro and Kim Coghill)