National Bank (NBG), Greece’s largest, yesterday reported a 25.3 percent rise in net nine-month group after-tax profit, on the back of strong retail lending growth. The bank, which reported under Greek accounting standards, said group earnings after tax reached 338.7 million euros. NBG President Takis Arapoglou said the results reflected recent efforts to achieve sustainable revenue growth in retail banking and expansion in the Balkans while rationalizing costs. «Mortgage and consumer loans are up 29 percent and loans to small and medium-sized enterprises are up 25 percent,» he said in a statement. Operations in Southeastern Europe contributed 9 percent of the group’s net earnings. «We have entered a new period, in which we set more ambitious targets, giving emphasis not only to turnover growth but also to improving operational efficiency and return on equity,» Arapoglou said. Core earnings grew 31.4 percent on an annual basis and 15 percent quarter-to-quarter to 364.4 million euros. Net interest income in the nine-month period rose 14.9 percent year-on-year to reach 1,048 million euros. The group’s net interest margin widened by 26 basis points year-on-year year to 3.01 percent. Net commission income was up 4.6 percent to 289 million euros. Total revenue advanced 13.6 percent year-on-year to 1,475.8 million. In the third quarter, NBG net earnings rose 39.7 percent year-on-year to 116.9 million euros, the highest level in recent years. The group’s return on average after-tax equity (ROAE) improved to an all-time high of 19.4 percent from 15.1 percent in 2003. Regarding costs, NBG said completion of its voluntary retirement program to date had resulted in a staff reduction of over 10 percent, at a cost of 106 million euros. The annual saving in the wage bill is expected to be around 70 million euros. Administrative expenses fell 5 percent in the third quarter.