NICOSIA (Reuters) – The Bank of Cyprus posted a 49 percent increase in first-quarter net profit yesterday, helped by a rise in net interest income and an improved loans and advances portfolio, it said. Core profits in Greece, its main overseas market, were flat because of network expansion costs and a higher number of interest-paying deposits compared to revenue-generating loans and advances. The bank, Cyprus’s largest with an estimated 40 percent share of the domestic market, said it was pressing ahead with plans to expand into the Balkans and Russia to complement its presence in Greece for the past 15 years. Chief Executive Officer Andreas Eliades told Reuters that the bank was looking primarily at the Romanian and Bulgarian markets. Net profit rose to 16 million Cyprus pounds ($35.20 million) from 11 million Cyprus pounds in the first quarter of 2004. Net interest income – the difference between interest earned from lending money and payments made by the bank for its own refinancing – rose 20 percent to 66 million pounds, reflecting higher interest charges to clients, it said. Group core profit reached 39 million Cyprus pounds, a 36 percent increase from the corresponding period of 2004. The bank said core profit remained «stable» in Greece at 14 million Cyprus pounds. Greek operations represented 35 percent of total group core profit.