Banks push index up in low-volume session

Shares closed slightly up in quiet trade on Wednesday, the last day before the Christmas break, with banks continuing to be much in demand after a spate of recent good news and Alpha Bank on another year high. «The session was, as expected, trendless and in low volumes in a pre-holiday mood. Banks remained in focus, we expect them to be the main drivers in a general market climb in the first quarter of 2004,» said analyst Christos Skroumas of Merit Securities. The general share index inched up 0.27 percent to 2,209.45 points, following European markets which hit fresh 2003 highs on the strength of chip stocks, despite thin volumes. The banking sector provided a major push to the index, closing almost 1 percent up on the day. «The volume was so low, movements were exaggerated,» one trader said. Alpha Bank hit a year high for the fourth session in a row, closing 1.14 percent up at 23.10 euros, on the back of a ratings upgrade on Tuesday and the fact that the share is still seen as cheap compared to international target prices, traders said. Turnover was less than half the average volume at 79.43 million euros, with 18.6 million shares changing hands. Advancers trailed decliners 137 to 149, with 64 unchanged. (Reuters)