Emporiki privatization a success, minister says The privatization of Emporiki Bank has been a success, Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said yesterday, adding that the stake held by France’s Credit Agricole may have reached 70 percent. He said private investors and social insurance funds had responded favorably to the offer, which expired Monday. «This is the largest foreign investment ever carried out in Greece,» he said. «It was a complete success.» Credit Agricole, which has held a stake in Emporiki since 2000, would not immediately comment on the privatization. The bank is expected to make an announcement today. Alogoskoufis said the Emporiki sale will boost Greece’s revenues from privatization to 1.74 billion euros in 2006, which will be used to pay down public debt. «At this point, we are not considering any new privatizations» this year, he said, but added that the government is making plans for next year and views the method of public offer used in Emporiki’s case as ideal. Sources said plans for further privatization of public assets include stakes in OTE, Athens International Airport and the Mont Parnes casino. (AP, Kathimerini) Laiki Bank posts 100 pct growth in H1 pretax profit NICOSIA (Reuters) – Cyprus’s Laiki Bank group’s half-year pretax profits grew 100 percent year-on-year on the back of gains in its insurance division and in traditional banking services, it said yesterday. The group said pretax profits rose to 45.8 million Cyprus pounds ($102.4 million) for the first half, compared to 22.9 million in the first half of 2005. After-tax gains rose 112 percent to 39.2 million pounds. The bank said its portfolio of non-performing loans (NPLs) was gradually improving. Greece’s Marfin Financial Group has a 10.01 percent stake in Laiki. The Cypriot bank is engaged in consultations with Marfin subsidiary Marfin Bank and Greece’s Egnatia Bank for a three-way merger involving Laiki’s Greek unit, Laiki Hellas. Bulgaria tourism Greeks outnumber visitors from any other country in Bulgaria, the country’s National Statistics Institute said yesterday. Serbia, Montenegro and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are the next biggest sources. A total of 1.5 million foreigners visited Bulgaria in the first half of the year. Greece is fourth in Bulgarian tourists’ foreign preferences, after Serbia, Montenegro and Turkey. Building permits up Construction activity, measured by the number of new building permits, rose 26.7 percent year-on-year in May, the National Statistics Service said yesterday. DryShips acquisition Greece’s DryShips Inc said it had agreed to acquire four Panamax dry-bulk carriers from a third party for about $111 million, expanding its fleet to 33 dry-bulk carriers. Delivery of the vessels will be between September and October.