First quarter profits have shot up by 97 per cent for the Birmingham branch of Swedish banking group Handelsbanken.

Branch manager Patrick Hanlon said the bank's Birmingham performance "continues to be driven by increased lending to new and existing, high quality customers in the mid and large corporate market and good quality property lending".

He added: "Our personal banking business which focuses on serving the traditional needs of professionals, entrepreneurs and senior executives also continues to perform exceptionally well."

Handelsbanken is to open new branches in Wolver-hampton and Leicester later this year, plus outlets in Oxford, Slough and Sheffield.

"We will undoubtedly open in other towns and cities in due course," Mr Hanlon added.

"There appears to be good demand for our traditional, relationship based approach to business. One of our guiding principles is to start with what the customer wants and as a result we have a number of good opportunities that we are working on and anticipate further progress during the year."

The expansion in the UK was revealed in the wake of the banks results earlier this week.

It posted better than expected first quarter operating profits of 1.5 billion crowns (£111.9 million), while earnings before interest and t ax (EBIT) came in at five billion crowns (£373.1 million), up from a profit of 3.3 billion crowns (£246.2 million) in 2005.

Total first-quarter income rose to 8.2 billion crowns ( £611.9 million) from six billion crowns (£447.7 million) a year ago.

Chief executive Lars Gronstedt indicated that the bank was also looking to expand its international operations through takeovers.

"We have said before that it was unlikely that Handelsbanken would move into a new country directly through acquisition. I wouldn't use the word unlikely any more. There are reasons to think that we can be more aggressive," he said.