ECONOMY

Alpha eases interest rates

Alpha Bank, the second-largest by assets, yesterday slashed 50 basis points off its rates for mortgage and consumer loans and credit cards as it seeks to consolidate its position in retail lending. Domestic banks this week announced a series of interest-rate cuts following the lead set by the European Central Bank, which eased its refinancing rate last week by 50 basis points. At 2 percent, the ECB’s benchmark interest rate is the lowest since 1948. Greek banks have in the last two years shifted their focus to retail lending, in part to offset the sharp decline in trading income but also because revenues from this sector are highly recurring and are also less volatile. Alpha Bank is estimated to have captured an 18.5 percent market share among the five major banks in retail banking at the end of March, the only bank to post an increase, according to research by P&K Securities. Retail banking makes up about a quarter of Alpha’s loan portfolio. Mortgage loans rose 83 percent in the first quarter and consumer credit by 21 percent. Despite the bank’s aggressive move into retail lending, analysts said its credit quality has not deteriorated. Alpha Bank said its fixed-rate mortgage loans are the cheapest in the market after the latest reductions. Interest rates for the Alpha Housing Program, which offers loans from three to 15 years, will now range between 4.6 percent to 6.4 percent, depending on the duration of the loan. The bank also trimmed interest rates on fixed-interest mortgage loans by between 20 basis points to 50 basis points for customers who decide to switch from a variable-rate loan or following the expiry of a fixed-rate loan.