Bourse hits five-year low as banks dive

Equities fell to five-year lows yesterday under the weight of sliding European bourses, while banks tumbled after the two biggest players disappointed investors with reduced 2002 dividend payouts. National Bank, the country’s biggest, fell 5.44 percent to 11.12 euros, and Alpha, the second largest, fell 4.57 percent to 10.44 euros. The bank sector as a whole retreated 3.98 percent, while the Athens bourse benchmark general index fell 2.42 percent to 1,623.34 points, its lowest level since March 1998. State-run soccer pools and lottery organization OPAP dropped 3.04 percent after a newspaper reported that the sale of a third tranche of shares in the company is imminent. Management at OPAP told Reuters it was not aware of any such plan. Blue chips fell 2.67 percent, while telecom stocks eased 1.49 percent. Mid-caps shed 2.44 percent and small-caps lost 3.05 percent. Total turnover was 96.96 million euros, with 26.3 million shares changing hands. Losers beat winners 320 to 20, with 22 shares unchanged on 362 traded. (Reuters)