UPDATE 1-Natixis raises dividend after cost cutting lifts profits

Wed Feb 19, 2014 1:33pm EST

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PARIS Feb 19 (Reuters) - French investment bank Natixis has promised to return more cash to shareholders after posting a 10 percent rise in underlying fourth-quarter net profits due to cost-cutting.

France's fourth-biggest listed bank by market value said it would pay a cash dividend of 0.16 euros per share for 2013, up from 0.10 euros for 2012, after fourth-quarter underlying net income - excluding restructuring costs and accounting charges on its own debt - rose to 261 million euros from 238 million.

Several European and Nordic banks including France's Societe Generale, Switzerland's UBS and Sweden's SEB have raised their dividends after rebuilding balance sheets battered by the financial crisis.

Natixis, which was rescued from near-collapse during the crisis by its cooperative retail-banking parent BPCE, is in the early stages of a new strategic plan designed to cut costs and boost revenue from more cross-selling of products.

The plan also involves asset sales such as the listing of Natixis's trade-credit insurance unit Coface on the stock market. The bank said on Wednesday it had officially begun the process of preparing for an IPO for Coface.

Natixis saw earnings grow across the board at its investment banking, asset-management and insurance and specialised financial services divisions but a large part of the improvement, especially in investment banking, came from curbing expenses.

Loan-loss provisions, which rose 5 percent for the whole of 2013, are still at a relatively high level and are unlikely to fall quickly in 2014, Chairman Francois Perol told reporters on a conference call.

"We're not seeing any signal right now that would lead us to foresee a very rapid drop in loan-loss provision levels," Perol said. (Reporting by Lionel Laurent and Matthieu Protard; Editing by Greg Mahlich)