UPDATE 1-SEB Q1 profits beat forecast, but warns on Ukraine
* Q1 op profit 4.9 bln SEK vs forecast for 4.7 bln in poll
* Commission income tops expectations
* Says Ukraine events could lead to more cautious business sentiment (Adds background, details)
STOCKHOLM, April 25 (Reuters) - Swedish banking group SEB reported on Friday a bigger-than-expected rise in first-quarter operating profit on the back of strong commission income but sounded a warning over a potential spillover of problems in Ukraine.
SEB, the first of the Nordic banks to report earnings for the quarter, said the improved market sentiment at the end of 2013 had carried on into 2014 with corporate activity in the Nordics and Germany developing positively.
CEO Annika Falkengren added, however, that the recovery was bumpy with the eurozone still hampered by high debt and high jobless levels.
There are also concerns over how things may play out in the Baltics, where SEB is a major player, due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
"The elevated geopolitical risks following the distressing events in Ukraine, may impact trade flows and lead to a more cautious business sentiment going forward, particularly in the Baltic countries," Falkengren said.
Nordic banks outperformed their European counterparts last year thanks to a solid regional economic backdrop. SEB shares, up about 36 percent from a year ago, outperformed a near 20 percent rise in the STOXX Europe 600 banks index.
Buoyant equity markets and a return of corporate confidence has led to a flurry of listings and deals in recent months and SEB, long the Nordic region's go-to corporate bank, is expected to benefit in the coming quarters from the pent up demand for its services as recovery takes hold.
Already, commission income in the quarter landed at 3.7 billion Swedish crowns, above forecasts.
Operating profit in the quarter rose to 4.9 billion Swedish crowns ($739 million), beating a mean forecast for 4.7 billion in a Reuters poll and compared with 3.7 billion in the year-ago period.