Alpha Bank shareholders yesterday approved the distribution of a dividend of 0.72 euros per share, up 44 percent from last year’s 0.50-euro dividend, as well as the distribution of two gratis shares for every 10 current shares to shareholders and the continuation of the share buyback program. A proposal to award stock options to the five executive members of the board – Executive Chairman Yiannis Costopoulos, Managing Director Demetrios Mantzounis and general managers Marinos Yiannopoulos, Spyros Filaretos and Artemis Theodoridis – was not voted upon due to a lack of quorum. The shareholders will meet again on May 5 to consider the proposal. Reporting to shareholders, Costopoulos said that 2005 will be a difficult year for banks and their financial results because of the introduction of International Accounting Standards (IAS) which will oblige them to include in their financial statements items that had so far remained hidden or hinted at, in small print, in accountants’ comments accompanying the statements. Costopoulos said that the transition to IAS makes any estimate of first-quarter profitability impossible. Asked about credit to the private sector (both households and enterprises) Costopoulos said he expected an increase in delays in paying back loans but added that Alpha’s loans portfolio remains «very clean» and that there is no cause for concern. «In 2004, the group’s net profits after tax and minority rights grew by 45 percent and amounted to 412 million euros, against 284 million euros in 2003, as a result, mainly, of the continuous reinforcement in net interest income. This is due to the restructuring of the loans portfolio to more profitable types of loans, such as loans to private individuals and small firms, as well as to the strict application of the program for operational cost containment,» Costopoulos told shareholders. «Non-interest revenue was supported by the significant growth of approximately 19 percent of revenue from commissions, which greatly exceeded the budgeted growth rate. Revenue from loans was significant, posting an increase of 29 percent, as was revenue from fees for banking services, which increased by 18 percent, as well as revenue from commissions on brokerage services, which increased by 58 percent,» he added.