The earnings of €1.734 billion ($2.3 billion) exceeded the consensus forecast of analysts surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires of €1.39 billion.
Despite lower interest rates, the bank said in a statement that its net interest income rose to €3.623 billion, up by 0.8 percent compared with the same three months in 2012.
"The key factors were the resilience of revenues and the advantage taken of opportunities to divest non-strategic assets such as the life insurance portfolio in Spain and the pension business in Mexico," it said.
But the ongoing financial crisis still showed through the results, as impairments on financial assets continued to widen in the quarter, to €1.376 billion euros from €1.085 billion a year ago.
The bank's bad loan ratio also rose to 5.3 percent from 5.1 percent in the fourth quarter.
BBVA shares slid 1.27 percent to 7.20 euros in morning trading on the Madrid stock exchange.