Santander's net profit rose by 4% in the fourth quarter as a strong performance by the bank in Brazil and higher net interest income offset a Spanish slump. 

"Latin America remains an important motor of growth for the group, with good progress, especially in Brazil and Mexico," chairman Ana Patricia Botin said in a statement today. 

The euro zone's biggest bank by market value said net profit rose to €2.07 billion in the three months from October to December. 

Santander came under scrutiny this month when it said Italian banker Andrea Orcel would no longer take over as its chief executive as it could not meet his pay expectations. 

Orcel, who had left Swiss bank UBS to take the job, had been appointed by the Spanish bank in September last year. 

Following the reversal, Santander said Jose Antonio Alvarez would be staying on as CEO for now. 

Santander said its net interest and fee income, a measure of earnings on loans minus deposit costs, hit €12.02 billion in the fourth quarter from €10.99 billion in the third. 

Net profit in the fourth quarter rose by 1.4% to €663m in Brazil, which is Santander's largest market, while net profit for the whole of 2018 jumped 22.3%.

In Mexico, net profit rose 8% in the fourth quarter to €206m but in its Spanish home market, Santander's quarterly profit slumped 18% to €432m, dented by high contributions to the country's deposit guarantee fund.

However, overall Santander posted a 28% jump in its full-year profit which rose to €7.81 billion, from €6.62 billion a year earlier. 

Analysts had expected a net profit of €7.83 billion for the full year.