Alpha Bank, Greece’s largest privately owned bank and second-largest overall, easily beat market estimates to post a 64.5 percent increase in quarterly group profits. The bank announced yesterday that net profits after tax and minorities for the first quarter of 2004 rose to 99.6 million euros, compared to 60.6 million in the same period last year. Several factors contributed to this result, most importantly the impressive rise in operating profits, combined with a very slight rise in operating costs. Operating profits, which exclude gains from financial operations, rose 84.3 percent. Income from commissions rose 32.4 percent, while general operating costs rose 4.2 percent. Thus, the operational expenses-to-income ratio declined to 47.8 percent, which, according to experts, is the lowest among the big Greek banks. A significant contribution was made by bond and derivatives transactions, which earned the bank some 37.5 million euros. At the same time, the quality of the bank’s portfolio remained steady, net interest income rose 17.3 percent and capital adequacy improved further. There is every indication that Alpha Bank is following a more aggressive policy, following years of rather timid ventures. Top bank managers told Kathimerini that the Alpha Bank group has the biggest market share among the five biggest banks – the others are National, EFG Eurobank, Emporiki and Piraeus – in corporate credit. These managers believe that there is still a lot of scope for growth in retail banking. They predict that, within two years, the Alpha Bank group will also be a market leader in consumer credit. Alpha’s main weapon to gain market share in the retail market is its position as grand national sponsor to the Athens Olympics. As the Games’ official banker, and ticket sales outlet, the bank expects to attract more clients. The bank has already created products with a theme relevant to the Athens Olympics. «The improvement of our results, which began last year, continues into this one. We thus strengthen the prospects of maintaining our profitability in the future and thus raising the value of our stock. We want Alpha Bank to become Greece’s largest bank. We will continue our hard work over the next few months in order to take advantage of our relative strengths and improve even more this year of the Olympic Games,» said Alpha Chairman and Chief Executive Yiannis Costopoulos.