The National Bank of Greece, the largest in the country by assets, yesterday took both the market and analysts by surprise as it reported vastly better-than-expected results for the first quarter of the year. A sharp jump in core revenues, a tighter grip on operating expenses and higher bond gains helped the bank generate a consolidated pretax net profit of 112 million euros in the first three months of the year, down 17.8 percent from the same period a year earlier, but a 52.4 percent improvement from the previous quarter. «The results are clearly better than expected due to higher trading gains and lower provisions,» said Manos Giakoumis, banking analyst at P&K Securities. The solid results suggested the bank has managed to shake off the fallout from the prolonged stock market slump as it successfully repositioned itself in the retail sector. National Bank’s aggressive move into retail banking lifted net interest revenues 15.1 percent to 316.2 million euros, boosting the net interest margin to 2.54 percent from 2.34 percent in the period a year earlier. The retail component of its loan portfolio reached 45 percent at the end of March, the bank said. Driven by Greek consumers’ voracious hunger for credit, the volume of consumer and personal credit loans rose 30 percent, while close to 100,000 new credit cards were issued, an increase of 47 percent, the bank said. It has an estimated market share of 21 percent in loans and is a market leader in the mortgage market with a 28 percent share. The bank’s launch of a new professional credit product targeted at companies or professionals with sales of up to 1 million euros last year underscored the importance of innovative products as the portfolio rose 7.6 percent. With Greeks reluctant to park their savings in accounts that generate a negative return after inflation, deposits were down 2.4 percent. Repos declined 13.8 percent, as the reimposition of a tax curtailed consumer interest. National Bank, the leading player in Greek government bonds in the first quarter, reported a 21.4 percent jump in bond revenues to 5.1 million euros. «Bond gains were better than expected,» said Sofia Skourtis of Marfin Hellenic. Core operating income rose 11.3 percent to 411.2 million euros. Provisions were down 8.6 percent to 34.2 million euros. National Bank also managed to put a leash on operating expenses, trimming them by 3.8 percent on a quarterly basis as a voluntary redundancy program initiated last year kept down wage costs. It shed 5.6 percent of its total work force last year. The bank’s shares climbed 3.98 percent yesterday to close at 11.50 euros.