ECONOMY

Banks again help boost index; Alpha’s new high

Shares extended gains yesterday, driven by buying interest in banks, with Alpha Bank continuing to outperform, setting a fresh year-high. «The market took its cue from bank stocks like National Bank and Alpha, with small- and mid-caps following on their coattails,» said investment manager Vassilis Antoniadis at Marfin Funds. The general share index added 1.86 percent to end at 2,252.98 points, its highest closing level since late August. Mid-caps rose 1.65 percent, small-caps ended 2.05 percent firmer and blue chips advanced 2.24 percent. Alpha Bank set a new year-high, rising 4.34 percent to 24.04 euros while National Bank added 4.10 percent to 20.82 euros. «The uptrend in bank stocks was due to buying interest from foreign institutional investors betting on strong results in 2004 and merger and acquisition activity in the sector,» said analyst Andreas Alexiou at Beta Securities. Shares in Piraeus Bank gained 2.37 percent to 9.50 euros, within sight of a year-high of 9.56 euros set on Monday as 30,420,617 new shares started trading yesterday following the completion of its merger with ETBA Bank. Turnover rose to 152.68 million euros with 31.8 million shares changing hands. Advancers outnumbered decliners 282 to 39, with 36 unchanged. (Reuters)