VIENNA, March 18 UniCredit's Bank Austria unit, emerging Europe's leading lender, aims to cut its exposure to risk after weak economies in the region triggered one-off charges that dented 2012 results, it said on Monday.
Italy's UniCredit reported a worse-than-expected fourth-quarter loss on Friday and said Italy's longest recession in two decades would hit earnings again this year.
Vienna-based Bank Austria more than doubled net profit in 2012 to 423 million euros ($553 million) despite taking charges of 423 million euros on the group's sale of ATF Bank in Kazakhstan and 165 million on goodwill impairments in Ukraine.
"We thereby aim to further reduce risks, strengthen the capital base and invest the capital which becomes available through this (ATF stake sale) in those CEE (Central and Eastern European) countries with the strongest potential for growth," Chief Executive Willibald Cernko said in a statement.
"I would like to emphasise that this decision does not change our commitment to the region of Central and Eastern Europe," he added, noting its CEE banking units accounted for 75 percent of overall results in 2012.
"For this reason the region will remain the growth market at our doorstep - even if we need to take a differentiated view of the individual markets."
($1 = 0.7654 euros) (Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Mark Potter)