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By Jesús Aguado

MADRID (Reuters) -Spain’s Santander said on Friday it was on track to meet its overall financial targets for 2023 and forecast a positive trend in lending and deposits in the first quarter as it tried to restore confidence in the battered financial sector.

The bank’s 2023 targets include double-digit revenue growth, a return on tangible equity (ROTE) above 15%, a cost to income ratio of 44% to 45%, and a cost of risk, which represents the cost of managing credit risks and potential losses, below 1.2%.

The statement from the euro zone’s second-biggest lender by market value comes after recent market tensions following the collapse this month of U.S. lender Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and UBS Group’s state-backed takeover of Credit Suisse.

The first months of the year are on a positive trend, with more than 1 million new customers, lending and deposits expected to grow in the first quarter by 4% and 6% respectively year-on-year in constant euros,” Chairman Ana Botin told shareholders, reassuring that the bank expected to achieve a ROTE of 14% in the first quarter.

Shareholders, who asked the executives about the resilience of the sector, approved Botin’s re-election as executive board member and ratified the appointment of CEO Hector Grisi as a board director.

Botin said that Santander was “well prepared” to face new challenges thanks to a diversified business model, which allowed it to book record profits in 2022. The bank aims to achieve a ROTE of 15 to 17% between 2023 and 2025.

At 1208 GMT, shares in Santander were down 0.4% after falling 8% since the turmoil began on March 9.

Botin said that Santander had a stable deposit base, with around 80% made up of retail clients or small businesses, and with the majority protected by guarantees, while the demise of SVB partly happened as this lender was exposed to an unusually high level of corporate deposits that were not covered by federal guarantees.

Santander has around 200 billion euros in cash deposited at central banks, equivalent to 20% of the bank’s total deposit base, Botin added.

In the United States, Grisi said the lender was focused on autolending, primarily for retail clients, “which makes it more resilient to situations of abrupt deposit outflows, in our case 70% of deposits are insured.

Overall, Santander ended 2022 with a liquidity coverage ratio of 152%, above the global banking sector average of around 140% at the end of June 2022, according to the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision.

(Reporting by Jesús Aguado; additional reporting by Emma Pinedo; Editing by Inti Landauro, Jamie Freed and Christina Fincher)

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