BANCO Santander has announced a 90% profits surge for the past year, helped by a sharp drop in bad loans.

Spain’s biggest bank by assets has also promised further “strong profit growth” in the years ahead.

It made €4.37bn in net profits in 2013, almost double the level of the previous year. The improvement was slightly below market expectations.

Emilio Botín, executive chairman, said in a statement.“After several years of strengthening the balance sheet and capital, Banco Santander is embarking on a period of strong profit growth in the coming years,”

Santander has mostly focused on strengthening its balance sheet since the crisis by shedding unprofitable customers and reining in lending as well as paying its dividend in shares rather than cash.

Its total assets shrank last year from €1.27tn to €1.12tn. Shares in the bank, which announced plans to cut €1.5bn-€1.7bn of costs, rose slightly to €6.43 at the end of the week.

Santander said it made more than half its profits last year in emerging markets, such as Latin America and Poland.