Banks’ mixed record

Bank stocks remain firmly at the center of investors’ interest, although it appears that this year the buying fever of past years is decreasing. There still are some exceptional yields, such as Piraeus Bank’s stock, which has gained 41 percent year-on-year, along with Alpha Bank’s (17 percent) and Bank of Cyprus’s (59.6 percent), but the signs of fatigue are clear. Since the start of the year six stocks in the sector have not followed the rising course of the general index, recording losses despite the positive developments. For instance, the stock of Emporiki Bank is showing yearly losses of 19.6 percent despite its acquisition by Credit Agricole SA (CASA) at 25 euros per share, the biggest-ever foreign direct investment in this country. Despite the positive prospects for Emporiki after its entry in the giant group of CASA, investors worry about what will happen in the short term due to the decision by the French to realize additional provisions of 350 million euros, which will have a negative impact on the bank’s results for at least the next couple of years. The stock of National Bank of Greece also shows small losses regardless of the impressive first-half results and particularly the acquisition of Turkey’s Finansbank, through which NBG is transforming into a dominant banking force in the greater region. One must take into account, though, that NBG completed just a few weeks ago its massive capital rise of 3 billion euros (the biggest in the Greek stock market’s history) to finance the purchase of the Turkish bank. ATEBank’s stock also suffers strong losses, despite the improvement in the bank’s financial state thanks to the restructuring by the management. The losses are broadly attributed to the strong fluctuations of recent months due to profiteering. Geniki Bank, too, sees its stock moving southward, as the bank’s restructuring requires more time (and additional provisions) than investors had originally expected. In the first half of 2006 the bank’s management made new provisions of 37.5 million euros to deal with bad loans. On the other hand, Bank of Cyprus records the biggest gains, despite the Emporiki acquisition fiasco. The return of investors’ interest for its shares is due to the great improvement in its figures after brave restructuring efforts in the last few years. The stock of Piraeus draws plenty of attention as the bank continues to expand rapidly. The dynamic growth of its branch network is likely to bring significant additional revenues in the coming years. Also positive is the course of the stock of Marfin Bank, which is leading efforts for the creation of a strong medium force in the banking sector. The high profits of recent years are mainly fed by the buying interest of foreign institutionals. The current value of their placements in the four big Greek banks (not including CASA in Emporiki) reaches 14 billion euros. Foreigners usually opt for NBG, especially after the Finansbank acquisition. They now control 45 percent of NBG shares, along with 34 percent of Piraeus, 33 percent of Alpha and 24 percent of EFG Eurobank Ergasias.