National Bank, the largest bank in the country by assets, is to slash its dividend for 2002 by close to 60 percent in line with a similar decline in consolidated after-tax profits last year. The bank yesterday said it plans to propose a dividend of 45 cents per share to shareholders against a payout of 1.1 euros in 2001, equivalent to an annualized return of 3.7 percent. The lower dividend came as after-tax profits fell by a bigger-than-expected margin of 56 percent to 213.2 million euros due to differences in tax obligations from previous periods. «The one-off tax charge and other tax costs took 25 million euros off net earnings,» said Manos Giakoumis, banking analyst at P&K Securities. Results were also affected by the bank’s voluntary early retirement scheme, with 725 departures coming at a cost of 28.5 million euros. This, together with natural attrition and voluntary redundancies in foreign subsidiaries, reduced the group work force by 6 percent last year. National Bank’s aggressive move into retail banking helped to boost net interest income by 6.5 percent to 1,183.3 million euros. Interest income accounted for 72 percent of consolidated total income last year against 58 percent in 2001. Loans and corporate bonds increased by 7.8 percent on an annualized basis to 23.1 billion euros. The biggest gain came in professional credit business, up by 35 percent to 532 million euros. The credit card business soared by 31.7 percent to 1.05 billion euros, mortgage lending by 23 percent to 5.9 million euros and consumer loans by 20.5 percent to 1.46 billion euros. Despite the sharp growth, the bank said focusing on quality helped cut down on non-performing loans after provisions, which made up just 2 percent of the total portfolio compared with 2.1 percent in 2001. Underscoring the adverse stock market conditions last year, trading activity declined by 79 percent to 83.2 million euros. Foreign subsidiaries and overseas branches more than doubled their contribution to group profits before trading gains to 25 percent.