Companies listed on the Athens Stock Exchange (ASE) completed the publication of their financial results for the first quarter of 2004 this week. On average, the consolidated financial statements showed a modest rise in turnover (6.4 percent) but a significant rise in profits (40.9 percent). As expected, banks were the most profitable sector, followed by wholesale and retail commerce, textiles, mobile telephony and other telecommunications, cement, basic metals and holding companies. Excepting banks, we can attribute the significant rise in profits to higher profit margins and, more importantly, to their continued effort, begun in 2002, to put the finances of their numerous subsidiaries in order. Companies listed during and after the heady bull market days of 1999 in many cases wasted the capital they had accumulated. After a lot of prevarication, they decided to cut operational expenses and, more importantly, to merge their many subsidiaries into a few or merged them completely into the parent company. This move was crucial to their turnaround, leading to the first quarter’s high profitability, a trend that is expected to continue into the second quarter. On the other hand, the small increase in turnover is a result of a slowdown in the market, which led to a stabilization of profit margins toward the end of the first quarter. CCHBC limits losses The Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company (CCHBC) was particularly impressive among industrial firms that managed to cut their losses in the first quarter. While analysts predicted a 29.3 percent decline in consolidated losses compared to the same quarter of 2003, CCHBC managed a 54 percent reduction to about 12 million euros, on the basis of international accounting standards. According to the company announcement, sales volume increased 11 percent, to 299 million unit cases, while sales value also rose 11 percent, to 885.1 million euros. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) rose 17 percent to 112 million euros, while operating profits also showed a significant increase, rising to 15 million euros from 2 million in the first quarter of 2003. For the entire year, CCHBC management expects a rise of 6-8 percent in volume of sales, 10-12 percent in EBITDA and net profit between 140 to 150 million euros. A turnaround Improved conditions on the stock and the futures markets enabled Hellenic Stock Exchanges, the privatized parent company, to return to profitability. First-quarter net profit after minorities stood at 21.467 million euros, compared to a loss of 8.578 million in the first quarter of 2003. There was a significant increase in turnover, to 18.047 billion euros, up from 10.608 billion in the same period last year. The company also managed to reduce operational costs by 7 percent. EBITDA stood at 10.875 million euros, compared to 3.232 million in the first quarter of 2003.