Profit-taking, mainly in banks, hurts index

Shares fell yesterday as selling pressure on banks weighed on the index and institutional investors continued to cash in on the market’s gains since the start of the year. «The pre-election period and an investment bank’s report on Greek banks weighed on market sentiment today,» said analyst Thanos Ipirotis at Alpha Finance. The general share index fell 1.12 percent to 2,417.75 points. It has gained close to 7 percent since the start of the year against a 3.8 percent rise in the FTSE Eurotop 300 of pan-European blue chips in the same period. Bank stocks lost 1.06 percent, with traders citing a Merrill Lynch note for the fall. The investment bank said the earnings growth potential of Greek banks was already fully reflected in their share prices after an average 19 percent rise in the last three months. Greek banks now trade on average at 14 times their expected 2005 earnings, some 40 percent above the 9.8 multiple for European retail banks, Merrill Lynch said. Alpha Bank, downgraded by Merrill Lynch to «neutral» from a previous «buy,» closed 0.96 percent lower at 24.84 euros. Turnover fell to 135.19 million euros, with 28.63 million shares changing hands. Decliners led advancers 260 to 48, with 48 unchanged. (Reuters)