The sale of 12 million Alpha Bank shares, 6.5 percent of the total, from the bank’s own holdings dominated today’s session on the Athens Stock Exchange. Bank stocks came under a lot of pressure, with Alpha shares losing 4 percent to end at 17.30 euros and National Bank sliding 4.40 percent, to 17.40 euros. The latter fell because of the government’s intention to sell a 10 percent stake held by state portfolio management company DEKA. All 12 million Alpha shares had been placed with institutional investors by yesterday afternoon. The price, expected to be announced today, is estimated to range between 17.10-17.20 euros per share, a slight discount from today’s close. It is expected that 20 percent of the shares will go to Greek institutional investors and 80 percent to foreign institutionals. According to market sources, Fidelity Asset Management, part of Fidelity Investments and a global leader in its sector, had bid for a substantial part of the shares. Alpha will earn about 200 million euros from the sale and will boost its capital adequacy. Following the sale, the Alpha Bank group still retains a 2.79 percent stake in Alpha Bank (2.10 percent through Ioniki Holdings and 0.69 percent through Alpha Investments). The decision to sell the shares has been interpreted by the market as a shift in strategy which will affect the whole group significantly. The drop in the price of Alpha’s shares on the stock market today is explained by the sale of the shares. It is harder, however, to explain the downward pressure on National’s shares. The sale of the stake held by DEKA is not expected before the end of October, at the earliest. Downward pressure on the market reignited the old, tired rumors that the market is being manipulated either by a few powerful institutionals or political parties for their own ends. Top bankers say that the market is shallow and is affected by three main factors: the international markets, listed companies’ half-year results and the forecasts of big institutionals about the future course of the market. They add, however, that even a relatively small player can affect the market through a small number of contracts (about 3,000) on the derivatives market. «You do not have to be a big bank to affect the market,» they say. It bears mentioning that several market players are concerned about the adequacy of «safety-valve» mechanisms between the equities and derivatives markets.