ECONOMY

Greece’s banks board the train to eastern Europe

Capital investment continues to flow generously into Central European banks and industrial concerns, particularly those in the new European Union members and in prospective ones, such as Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia. In fact, recent data published in both an Ernest & Young survey and The Banker magazine show that these countries are at the receiving end of the largest volume of investment in Europe. This trend is supported both by the foreseen increase in their economic growth rates and incomes, and their absorption of sizable EU funds after 2006. Development in these markets will continue, according to the magazine, as more and more countries join the EU. In June, Bulgaria confirmed its entry date for January 1, 2007, when Romania is also hoping to join – which should be confirmed by the year’s end. Croatia gained candidate status in June and the main accession process will begin next year. The sharp rise in equity capital and assets recorded in 2003 continues this year for the top 100 Central and Eastern European banks, says The Banker. The total equity capital of the region’s banks grew by 21 percent, reaching $29.5 billion. These banks’ total assets rose by 22 percent, climbing to $365 billion. Total pretax profits also increased by no less than 31 percent, standing at $5.3 billion. Very lively growth indeed. Significantly, all countries in question (even Bosnia-Herzegovina) are represented in the list of the 100 biggest banks. Polish banks have a leading role, as 19 of them are on this list, representing 31 percent of total equity capital and 30 percent of total assets. Hungary follows with 14 banks in the list, with the Czech Republic and Slovenia next, boasting 10 each. Romania has eight and Bulgaria seven. In these two countries likely to enter the EU in two years’ time, Greek banks have made a considerable investment, led by National Bank of Greece and EFG Eurobank Ergasias, followed by Alpha Bank and Piraeus. They have bought out established local banks as well as expanding their network autonomously. They have also invested in smaller Balkan markets, such as Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. These investments are considered to have significant prospects after the first five years.