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Brazil's Itaú Unibanco CEO sees online banking helping to lift profits

(Adds CEO comments on profits)

By Carolina Mandl

SAO PAULO, July 31 (Reuters) - Itaú Unibanco Holding SA's profit is likely to rise over the next quarters, helped by online banking, Chief Executive Officer Candido Bracher said on Tuesday.

Bracher told analysts in a conference call that clients of Brazil's largest private lender should increasingly make use of digital tools, which are cheaper than brick-and-mortar branches.

One third of Itaú's retail operating revenue came from online accounts in the second quarter, 8 percentage points higher than two years earlier, and this should help raise profitability.

"Efficiency gains with online banking should lead to gains in net income over the next quarters," Bracher told analysts.

His remarks followed second-quarter results that missed analysts' profit estimates.

Bracher said he did not see much room for defaults to keep falling. Itaú's 90-day default ratio, a widely used metric, slipped to 2.8 percent in the second quarter, the lowest ratio in at least seven quarters.

Lending spreads, meanwhile, will probably decline as a new credit card score system for consumers under discussion should reduce bad loans, Bracher added.

Itaú earned a net 6.382 billion reais, 1.5 percent below a Thomson Reuters consensus estimate of 6.481 billion reais, due to higher operating expenses and lower trading book gains.

Preferred shares fell 3.7 percent to 45.23 reais, among the largest decliners on Brazil's benchmark Bovespa stock index .

"All-in, a decent, but mostly uneventful quarter for Itaú," BTG Pactual analysts said in a note to clients.

Bracher said during the conference call that the bank is still on track to hit its goals for loan book growth and expenses, in spite of Brazil's slow economic recovery.

Itaú seeks loan book growth between 4 and 7 percent in 2018. In the first six months of this year, its loan book increased 3.9 percent to 623.3 billion reais, helped by consumers, small companies and operations outside Brazil, mainly in Chile and Colombia.

Bracher, however, said the bank does not foresee demand for corporate loans to pick up, due to uncertainties caused by Brazil's presidential elections.

($1 = 3.7596 reais) (Reporting by Carolina Mandl Editing by Paul Simao and Susan Thomas)