ECONOMY

Greek banks hope for ‘visible’ size

Greek banks’ ongoing efforts to expand, both at home and in neighboring countries, are not surprising, considering their comparatively small size. According to UK magazine The Banker, no Greek bank figures among the world’s 100 largest, based on the criterion of Tier One Capital. National Bank of Greece (NBG), the country’s biggest lender, is in 128th position, one place below last year’s on the list. Alpha Bank takes 160th spot (position unchanged); Piraeus is in 271st spot (from 246th); ATEbank has moved up impressively to 281st place (from 364th), and Emporiki slipped to 284th (from 225th). Eurobank’s parent company, EFG European Financial Group, Switzerland’s third-largest, is in 113rd spot from 148th a year ago. France’s Societe Generale, the parent company of Geniki Bank, is the country’s fourth-largest bank and the world’s 26th. Portugal’s Millenium BCP, which controls Greece’s NovaBank, is the country’s third and the world’s 227th largest. Bank of Cyprus is in 298th position worldwide (from 344th last year) and Laiki Bank in 419th. Credit Agricole, which ended up as the sole bidder for Emporiki Bank, is France’s biggest and the world’s sixth largest. Turkey’s Finansbank, which is being bought by NBG, ranks ninth in the country and 420th in the world. Last year was the third in a row in which the global banking industry reached record levels of profitability. The world’s 1,000 biggest banks reported a total of $645.1 billion in pretax profits, up 18.6 percent from 2004. The big six (Citigroup, HSBC, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Mitsubishi UFJ and Credit Agricole) accounted for 17.2 percent of the total. NBG short-listed for CEC According to a Reuters report yesterday, Romania short-listed Hungary’s OTP and National Bank of Greece to buy its CEC bank, and rejected a bid by Austria’s Raiffeisen. «We will start negotiations with the two bidders on August 1, and hope to complete (the initial talks) by August 23,» Finance Minister Sebastian Vladescu was quoted as saying. The centrist government has postponed for months the sale of the country’s fifth-largest bank – seen as one of the last chances for investors to expand in fast-growing Eastern European financial markets – in the hope of getting a higher price. Romania has said it wants to complete the sale of a 69.9 percent stake in CEC by the end of this year. Vladescu said the government planned to receive final, improved offers for the bank by the end of August. CEC, the last state bank on offer in Romania, appeals to investors because of its huge network, which includes over half the country’s bank branches and covers remote rural areas where billions of euros will flow after EU entry in 2007 or 2008. CEC Chairman Eugen Radulescu told Reuters this month that the bank has a book value of 200 million to 250 million euros. A recent research note by Merrill Lynch put a price tag of just under 500 million euros on the stake, but the government hopes it will fetch 700 million euros.