Alpha Bank, Greece’s second-largest lender by assets, posted a 7.2 percent rise in first-half group net profit yesterday, thanks to strong loan growth, and said it plans to expand its foreign operations. Net profit rose to 223.3 million euros ($275 million) in the first half and was 122.2 million euros in the second quarter. First-half net interest income increased 13.7 percent to 582.8 million euros. The net interest margin was unchanged at 3.2 percent. «The results were better than expected, helped by strong growth in consumer credit and mortgages,» said analyst Manos Hatzidakis at Pegasus Securities. The bank said it aims to boost its international activities. «We are taking measures to increase our operations in small-business financing in Greece and also measures which will allow a faster expansion in Southeast Europe,» Chairman Yiannis Costopoulos said in a statement. Alpha Bank, which has operations in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Cyprus, said its foreign units accounted for 11 percent of total profit. Boost from foreign units «Our goal is that the contribution of our operations in Southeast Europe to pretax profit reach 20 percent in 2007,» Michael Massourakis, head of strategy and economic research, told Reuters. The bank said retail lending in Greece posted a 57.7 percent rise in pretax profit to 127.6 million euros, boosted by a 44.2 percent increase in consumer credit and a 32 percent rise in mortgages. It reported trading losses of 10.3 million euros, citing adverse market movements. Alpha Bank said it expected its return on equity (ROE) to exceed 26 percent in 2007, helped by its business plan. It kept its 2007 targets, with net interest margin in 2007 seen at 3.3 percent. The core tier 1 ratio is expected to fluctuate between 7 and 8 percent. Massourakis said Alpha was still considering whether to join a new state-controlled supplementary fund which the government aims to set up shortly as part of its social security reforms in the banking sector. «We are reviewing the issue and waiting for an explanatory circular from the government. It is our intention that the fund be set up,» he said. Analysts say that any banks taking part in the new single unified banking sector supplementary pension fund, which aims to replace the 11 separate supplementary funds that exist at present, will benefit as contributions will be lower. Alpha Bank said in June that it recognizes pension fund liabilities of 393 million euros, which led to a reduction in the bank’s equity capital to 2.0 billion euros from 2.4 billion euros.