UPDATE 1-Georgia's TBC Bank FY profit buoyed by strong lending, economic growth

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Feb 22 (Reuters) - TBC Bank Group Plc, Georgia’s largest retail bank, reported a jump in full-year net profit, buoyed by robust lending, and maintained its medium-term targets in a growing economy.

TBC, which became Georgia’s largest bank by loans and deposits after buying Bank Republic from SocGen and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), said net profit jumped 20.7 percent to 359.9 million lari ($147.02 million) in the year ended Dec. 31.

“Profitability was supported by an increased fee and commission income, which helped to offset the effect of an anticipated drop in net interest margin, good performance in operating expenses, and prudent management of cost of risk,” CEO Vakhtang Butskhrikidze said.

Net interest margin stood at 6.5 percent in 2017, down from 7.8 percent in 2016.

Cost-to-income ratio was 41.7 percent, compared with 45.8 percent a year earlier, TBC, which offers retail, corporate and small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) banking across the country, said.

Tbilisi-based TBC’s market share in total loans fell by 0.6 percentage points to 38.2 percent from a year earlier.

Gross loans and advances to customers stood at 8.55 billion lari at the end of December, up 16.2 percent from a year earlier.

The bank cited favourable growth prospects and stuck to its medium-term return-on-equity forecast of over 20 percent and loan book growth target of about 15 percent.

Georgia’s economy expanded by 4.8 percent year-on-year in 2017, preliminary official data showed last month, up from 2.2 percent in 2016.

The former Soviet republic, through which pipelines carry Caspian oil and gas to Europe, is recovering from a fall in exports and a plunge in the currencies of its main trading partners, which have depressed economic growth in recent years.

Georgia’s central bank’s Governor Koba Gvenetadze said in an interview to Reuters that current economic indicators showed that 2018 will be a continuation of the economic recovery which started last year.

Rival BGEO last week reported an 8.1 percent rise in full-year profit.

($1 = 2.4480 laris)

Reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru; Editing by Sunil Nair