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UPDATE 3-Handelsbanken beats profit forecasts, no loan losses

* Q1 net profit 4.38 bln SEK

* No loan losses despite pandemic

* Says cost-cutting plan on track (Adds CEO comment, shares)

STOCKHOLM, April 21 (Reuters) - Sweden’s Handelsbanken beat quarterly net profit forecasts on Wednesday as its loan portfolio continued to weather the impact of the coronavirus pandemic with ease.

Over the last year, the bank has showcased resilience in the face of a pandemic expected to result in a jump in soured debt for lenders as the spread of the coronavirus reduced employment and business activity around the world.

“This is a quarter were everything is going in the right direction...we’re keeping income high despite being in the midst of a pandemic,” CEO Carina Akerstrom told a news conference.

First-quarter net profit rose to 4.38 billion Swedish crowns ($519 million) from 3.94 billion a year earlier, beating a 3.97 billion mean forecast from analysts, Refinitiv data showed.

The bank did not report any loan losses in the quarter, but instead a positive adjustment of 8 million crowns. That compared with loan losses of 538 million crowns a year earlier and analysts’ forecast for losses of 417 million.

Handelsbanken’s shares were up more than 2% at 0830 GMT, ahead of a European banking index up 0.9%.

Net interest income, which includes income from mortgages, fell 5% to 7.82 billion crowns from 8.23 billion a year earlier, but level with the 7.82 billion expected by analysts.

Total expenses, a concern for investors in recent years, increased to 5.68 billion from 5.5 billion, with the bank making a provision to the Oktogonen profit sharing scheme while the cost-cutting plan it unveiled in autumn had yet to yield its full impact.

“The cost-cutting programme is proceeding according to plan,” the bank said in the statement.

Fee and commission income increased 10% to 2.97 billion crowns while gains on financial transactions rose to 397 million from 130 million.

“No great surprises in the report, the trends were what we expected to see,” Andreas Hakansson, a senior analyst at Danske Bank, said, adding it was too early to see results from the bank’s cost-cutting plan.

Handelsbanken’s shares are up just over 16% this year.

$1 = 8.4404 Swedish crowns Reporting by Colm Fulton; editing by Kim Coghill and Jason Neely

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