Spain's Santander said today that its net profit in the first quarter beat forecasts, rising 58% on the same period a year earlier thanks to higher revenues and efficiency gains in Europe.

The euro zone second-biggest lender in terms of market value booked net profit of €2.54 billion, up from €1.61 billion in the same quarter last year when earnings were hit by restructuring charges worth €530m.

Analysts polled by Reuters expected Santander to post a net profit of €2.26 billion.

Net profit also topped the €1.84 billion recorded in the first quarter of 2019, before Covid-19 hit Spain, although it was lower than the €2.78 billion booked in the fourth quarter of 2019.

"Looking ahead, while inflation will affect the pace of global economic growth, with specific impacts varying across our regions and businesses, we are reiterating our 2022 targets," Santander Chairman Ana Botin said.

For 2022, the bank maintained an underlying return-on-equity ratio target (ROTE), a measure of profitability, of 13%, a cost-to-income ratio of 45%.

On an underlying basis, net profit rose overall by 19%, with Europe rising 30% thanks to strong growth in lending income.

Efficiency measures implemented in Europe coupled with ongoing interest rates hikes in Britain and Poland buoyed quarterly earnings.

Santander's diversification, especially in Latin America, has helped the bank cope with tough conditions for lenders in Europe since the financial crisis, where it has been cutting costs to cope with ultra low interest rates.