Santander Consumer's 3Q results show company at a crossroad

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Profits climbed at Santander Consumer USA Holdings thanks to a mix of lower taxes and stronger auto originations through its dealer partnership with Fiat Chrysler.

Santander — a unit of the Spanish banking giant Banco Santander — reported earnings of $231.9 million during the third quarter, or 17% more than a year earlier. Earnings per share were 64 cents, or 6 cents higher than the mean estimate of analysts compiled by FactSet Research Systems.

"Our performance in the third quarter demonstrates the continued strength in our business," Scott Powell, CEO of both the Dallas-based auto lender and its U.S. bank holding company, said in a press release Wednesday announcing the results.

The $42.8 billion-asset Santander disclosed additional problems with its accounting, stemming from the way it determines past-due status on loans and handles troubled debt restructurings. The errors have been corrected and were immaterial to the financial, the company said.

The accounting woes come two years after Santander restated its earnings several times, amid scrutiny of changes in the way it calculated its set-aside for problem loans as well of as a severance payment to the company's former CEO, Thomas Dundon.

As of Sept. 30, total originations soared 49% to $7.9 billion as the company accelerated the loans made through its financing partnership with Fiat Chrysler.

That partnership, known as Chrysler Capital, came under scrutiny after Fiat’s former chief, Sergio Marchionne, who died in July, said earlier in the year that he had wanted to create his own U.S. captive finance division.

Total loans held on the company’s books rose 11% to $24.9 billion.

Net interest and finance income rose 5% to $597.9 million. The net interest margin dipped 20 basis points to 10.6%. The provision for loan losses rose 5% to $597.9 million.

Noninterest income plunged 58% to $24.6 million as the prior year included a gain on the sale of the company’s portfolio of RV and marine loans.

Noninterest expenses sunk 9% to $272.3 million thanks to lower compensation and repossession costs.

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