ECONOMY

In Brief

Piraeus Bank more than doubles 2005 net profit Strong loan volumes helped Piraeus Bank more than double its 2005 net profit as Greece’s fifth-largest lender gained market share in high-margin retail credit and set ambitious targets for 2006-08. Group net earnings rose 107 percent to 263.8 million euros, with the mortgage loan portfolio growing 52 percent, outpacing the market’s 35 percent expansion rate. Its market share rose to 8.5 from 7.6 percent. Net interest income rose 27 percent to 558.7 million euros, with the bank’s net interest margin improving to 3.33 from 3.26 percent. The group’s targets for the 2006-08 period include compounded annual net profit growth of at least 25 percent. Piraeus Bank is set for further expansion outside Greece, eyeing a higher contribution from its international operations before growth peaks at home. Piraeus is now present in Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Serbia, Egypt and the United States. Its network abroad grew to 176 branches in 2005. International operations contributed about 13 percent to group profit. Piraeus Bank will issue bonus shares, one-for-four, and raise its dividend by 25 percent to 0.50 euros. (Reuters) Independent agency hoped to make procurements transparent The Development Ministry is preparing a bill setting up an independent state procurements authority, which will check the legality of all public contracts. «The existing system exposes the country as it is permeated by a complex legal regime with a multitude of provisions that give public servants the discretionary power to favor and disfavor,» said Deputy Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou. The new system is hoped to boost transparency, reduce costs and increase the number of small suppliers. State procurements are worth about 3.5 billion euros annually. The government is also expected to issue an open tender for the National Electronic Procurements System by the end of the week. J&P wins Gulf project Construction firms J&P (Overseas) Ltd and its listed Greek affiliate J&P Avax said they have signed a 239-million-euro contract for infrastructure work on Qatar’s planned artificial Pearl Island. The 400-hectare resort – the Gulf’s biggest – to be developed by Qatar’s United Development Company, will house 40,000 people and include three five-star hotels totaling 800 beds, 8,000 luxury villas, and four marinas. J&P has to deliver its part of the project in 970 days. Cyprus tourism Tourism arrivals to Cyprus fell 6.8 percent year-on-year in January, the statistics office said. It said arrivals fell to 54,875 in January 2006 compared to 58,894 in January 2005. Tourism represents an estimated 15 percent of Cyprus’s gross domestic product and is worth 8.16 billion pounds ($17 billion). (Reuters)