ECONOMY

Shares drop 0.63 pct as investors seek direction

Equities slipped yesterday as investors cast about for direction after Greece’s two largest banks formally announced the end of their merger, with analysts saying there was little to inspire. «The market remains without direction and is characterized by a lack of interest after the National-Alpha merger failure,» said head analyst Dimitris Skapinakis at Marfin Hellenic Securities. The Athens benchmark general index ended off 0.63 percent at 2,543.73 points, with closely watched banks easing 0.21 percent. National Bank ended with losses of 0.64 percent at 24.84 euros after hitting an intrasession low of 24.22 euros. Alpha Bank trimmed early gains to end up 0.10 percent at 19.24 euros. The FTSE/ASE-20 index of blue chips eased 0.60 percent to 1,382.26 points. Telecom stocks fell, tracking European peers, with heavyweight OTE Telecom down 1.72 percent to 18.30 euros. Mobile operator Panafon Vodafone bucked the trend, adding 1.31 percent in late-session trading to 6.20 euros. Internet service provider Forthnet surged 11.43 percent to 9.36 euros on optimism about its plans for fixed voice telephony services.(Reuters) The changeover will be practically completed within the next two weeks. The payment of monthly wages in the new currency will deliver the coup de grace, particularly in the provinces, where the pace of introduction has been slower, and the drachma will have been withdrawn. It is expected that the present rate of withdrawal (about 70 billion drachmas a day) will continue. The central bank is prepared to respond, as the quantity of euros that has been printed is 60 percent larger than the drachmas that used to be in circulation. Moreover, since mid-December, the mint has been intensively churning out coins of 1 and 2 cents. The total quantity of coins will be triple that of drachma coins.