ECONOMY

In Brief

Greek banks look forward to tapping developing Balkan economies Greek banks possess significant advantages vis-a-vis others in developed economies, particularly in the European Union, Theodoros Karatzas, governor of the National Bank (NBG), the country’s biggest, told the Euromoney conference in Athens yesterday. He said the advantages include high capital adequacy, which gives them stability, and satisfactory profitability, which in pretax terms rose 34 percent in the first nine months. Bank lending to households is still low at 24 percent of GDP, against 50 percent in the eurozone and 70 percent in the USA. Corporate debt is 40 percent of GDP, against 63 percent in the eurozone. Karatzas said NBG led all competitors in the Balkan neighboring countries, with total assets of 1.7 billion euros, and had the biggest branch network in SE Europe. He said NBG faced good prospects in the region through expansion, particularly in retail banking. Nikos Nanopoulos, chief executive of EFG Eurobank Ergasias, the country’s third largest bank, said Greece had to address five critical issues if it wishes to continue playing the role of regional leader. «We suffer from low inflows of foreign direct investment, a relatively small capital market, a lack of big industrial ‘champions,’ a legal framework insufficiently friendly to enterprises and an economy of average competitiveness that gives only lukewarm support to entrepreneurship,» he said. He said the Balkan neighboring countries had certain characteristics similar to Greece’s 15-20 years ago. The EFG Eurobank group employs 9,000 in Greece and half as many again in its Romanian, Bulgarian and Serbian subsidiaries. Report recommends measures for Greece to increase employment Greece has one of the lowest employment rates among women in the EU but also high unemployment despite a recent decline, a report by a special working group headed by former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok says. The report, released in Brussels yesterday, notes that unregistered work in Greece remains at high levels and the participation of adults in retraining programs particularly low. The report recommends that Greece reduces administrative impediments and the non-wage costs for businesses, eases the restrictions on part-time work, and facilitates the growth of employment bureaus to increase the variety of the forms of work available. It also calls on Greece to increase kindergarten facilities in the workplace and provide incentives for people to delay retirement, particularly of unskilled workers. Speeding up education reforms with a view to reducing the school dropout rate and to improve access to higher education are two further recommendations. Navy contracts French defense electronics firm Thales said yesterday it had won two contracts with the Greek navy worth about 150 million euros. The contracts call for the midlife modernization and supply of radar and fire control equipment for Greek «fast-attack craft.» (Reuters)