SAO PAULO, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Banco Santander Brasil SA , the largest foreign lender in Brazil, beat third-quarter profit expectations following a steeper-than-expected decline in bad loan provisions, it said on Thursday.
The lender earned 1.407 billion reais ($642 million) in recurring profit, excluding one-time items, according to a securities filing. Analysts in a Thomson Reuters poll had expected 1.338 billion reais.
Recurring profit was down 0.2 percent from the prior quarter because of sliding fee income and a rise in expenses that outpaced interest income. Compared with the same quarter a year earlier, recurring profit fell 6.8 percent on steep margin erosion and declining interest income.
Bad loan provisions fell 16 percent to 2.698 billion reais in the quarter, the lowest in seven quarters and below analysts' estimates of 3.231 billion reais, after loan delinquencies fell.
Loans in arrears for 90 days or more, a benchmark indicator for defaults, fell to the equivalent of 4.5 percent of total outstanding loans in the third quarter from 5.2 percent in the prior three months.
Loan growth accelerated on a quarterly and annual basis. Compared with the second quarter, growth in Santander's loan book accelerated by 1.8 percent to 222.071 billion reais.
Analysts in the Reuters poll expected Santander Brasil's loan book to be about 223 billion reais.
Lending spreads should remain stable in 2014 due to less-aggressive lending by public banks, Chief Executive Officer Jesus Zabalza said in a press conference to discuss the results on Thursday, adding that the company's loan book should be slightly higher next year.
Return on equity fell for a third consecutive quarter, reaching 10.6 percent in the July-to-September quarter. The number came in above the poll's 9.9 percent.
Santander's buyout of merchant acquirer GetNet Tecnologia SA from the company's controlling shareholder, announced in July, should be concluded in coming days and will give Santander Brasil "much more" than a 51 percent share of the company, Zabalza added.
Zabalza said Santander Brasil aims to reach a 10 percent share of Brazil's merchant acquirer market in 2014. He expects the deal to gain regulatory approval by February.
The São Paulo-based bank is a subsidiary of Spain's Banco Santander SA and is Brazil's largest foreign lender.