ECONOMY

Bank profits in top form

Piraeus Bank today will kick off the round of announcements of 2004 results in the banking sector, after the close of trading on the Athens bourse. Alpha Bank follows tomorrow, National and Bank of Cyprus on Thursday, and EFG Eurobank and Emporiki on Friday. With the exception of Emporiki, all others are projected to report results at the top of market expectations, in view of the fast growth rates in consumer credit, where profit margins are significantly higher than in corporate loans. Emporiki is actually forecast to report a drop in profitability, largely due to an overhaul of the group that swelled short-term costs. The average overall net interest margin of Greek banks is estimated at slightly above 3 percent. This stands at 1.5 percent in loans to large enterprises, 2.5 percent in those to mid-sized firms and more than 5 percent in credit to small businesses. By contrast, the net interest margin in card-holder credit exceeds 8 percent and in consumer loans, it is near 7 percent. In mortgages it is slightly above 2.5 percent. Retail banking also carries significantly lower risks as sums are widely dispersed. Bankers appear upbeat about further growth and do not share fears of overlending, arguing that the margins for further penetration in economic activity remains large. They point out that, according to November 2004 data, loans to enterprises represent 43.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), against a 58 percent average in the eurozone. The gap in credit to households is even wider, 31.2 percent of GDP in Greece, compared to 54.9 percent in the eurozone. In housing credit, Greek mortgages represent 20.2 percent of GDP, against 38.9 percent in the eurozone. In consumer credit, the respective rates are 11 percent and 16 percent. Thorn remains Efforts for a comprehensive solution to the hot issue of banks’ unfunded social insurance liabilities, including the setting up of a single auxiliary pension fund, yesterday appeared to be heading for failure after unfruitful meetings between bank employee union representatives, Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis and a special technical committee. Federation of Bank Employees’ Unions (OTOE) Chairman Dimitris Tsoukalas said he was not pleased with Alogoskoufis’s refusal to commit himself to a scheme within the framework of the present social insurance system. He reported that the minister urged OTOE to first reach a bilateral solution with the banks, otherwise there would be separate arrangements for Emporiki and the Agricultural Bank, where the problem is the most serious. However, a common proposal by the four biggest banks, excluding EFG Eurobank, was rejected by OTOE last week.