REUTERS SUMMIT-Santander Polish arm's 2013 profits to beat forecasts
* Sees 2013 profit exceeding PLN 1.5 bln seen by analysts
* Sees larger than planned cost cuts after KBC unit buy
* Expects more mergers among Polish banks, not near-term (Adds more detail, CEO comments)
By Marcin Goclowski and Adrian Krajewski
WARSAW, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Net profits at BZ WBK, the Polish unit of Spanish bank Santander, will exceed analysts' forecasts for six percent growth this year because of the recovery in Poland's economy, the bank's chief executive said on Monday.
"The 1.5 billion zlotys ($479.5 million) that analysts expect as our net profit for this year is a pessimistic forecast," Mateusz Morawiecki, whose bank is no.3 in the Polish market, told a Reuters Investment Summit.
He said he saw a pick-up in Poland's economic growth translating into higher profits for the sector as well as for the lender, which earned 1.43 billion zlotys last year.
"We see some economic rebound. Banks' results should only rise now, taking their cue from better interest margins," Morawiecki said.
Analysts had expected bank profits to fall this year due to a weakening economy in the first half and downward pressure from lower rates, after the Polish central bank's Monetary Policy Council cut borrowing costs by 225 basis points since November.
But the sector surprised the market with a 7-percent rise in its aggregate net profit in the second quarter, after which the country's economy began to pick up.
"The sector is healthy compared to the region and Europe. Our ratios confirm that very strongly," Morawiecki said.
BZ WBK last year acquired Kredyt Bank, the Polish unit of Belgian lender KBC <KBC.BR, allowing it to join the top three banks in Poland.
Morawiecki said that following the acquisition, his bank was half-way through a programme to realise savings of 340 million zlotys, or 13-14 percent of the merged operation's costs.
"It's not an aggressive goal and we will fare better than that," the CEO said.
Poland's fragmented banking sector is considered ripe for mergers and acquisitions. As well as BZ WBK's acquisition of Kredyt Bank, the market leader, PKO, bought Nordea's Polish unit earlier this year.
Morawiecki said he expected more such deals, though not in the near term.
"There's still merger potential among Polish banks," Morawiecki said. "Looking five years ahead, we'll see some more consolidation, but the process should cool down in the coming year."
(For other news from Reuters Russian and Eastern Europe Investment Summit, click here)
(Follow Reuters Summits on Twitter @Reuters_Summits) ($1 = 3.1281 Polish zlotys) (Writing by Adrian Krajewski; Additional reporting by Karolina Slowikowska and Pawel Bernat; Editing by Jane Merriman)