March 12, 2018 / 4:57 PM / 8 days ago

UPDATE 1-Higher provisions squeeze Greek lender Eurobank's fourth-quarter profit

* Eurobank reports Q4 net profit of 53 mln euros

* NPL ratio eases to 33.4 pct end-Dec, from 35.3 pct in 2016

* CEO confident bank will meet 2018 bad debt reduction target

* (Adds details, CEO comment)

By George Georgiopoulos

ATHENS, March 12 (Reuters) - Eurobank, Greece’s third-largest lender by assets, stayed profitable in the final quarter of last year but net earnings fell from the previous three months as provisions for impaired loans rose.

Eurobank, which was recapitalised during the Greek debt crisis and returned to profit in 2016, is 2.4 percent owned by the country’s HFSF bank rescue fund.

It reported net earnings of 53 million euros ($65 million) before discontinued operations after profits of 61 million euros in the third quarter.

Accounting for discontinued operations, the bank reported a net profit of 43 million euros after a 15.3 million euro loss in the third quarter.

Greek lenders including Eurobank are bracing for a health check by the European Central Bank, aimed at uncovering any potential shortage of capital before Greece leaves its 86 billion euro international bailout in August.

The stress test is expected to be completed in May. Banks are also focused on reducing their bad debt portfolios and meeting targets agreed with regulators by 2019.

“Dealing with the NPE (non-performing exposures) stock remains our top priority,” Chief Executive Fokion Karavias said in a statement. “Although NPE targets for 2018 are more demanding, we are confident we will achieve them.”

Eurobank said its non-performing loans (NPLs) ratio - credit overdue by more than 90 days - eased to 33.4 percent at the end of 2017 from 35.23 percent a year earlier.

The bank said its stock of NPEs fell by 2.5 billion euros last year, topping a reduction target of 0.7 billion euro and pushing its NPE ratio down to 42.6 percent, from 46 percent in 2016. NPEs include NPLs plus restructured credit likely to become non-performing again.

The bank’s credit loss provisions rose to 206 million euros from 178 million in the third quarter.

International operations remained profitable with net profit before discontinued operations and restructuring costs reaching 130 million euros for 2017 as a whole.

Eurobank has said it will maintain its Balkan footprint in Bulgaria, Serbia and Cyprus after pulling out of Romania.

$1 = 0.8118 euros Reporting by George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Susan Fenton

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