NBG unveils its three-year business plan

Greece’s largest lender, National Bank (NBG), set ambitious performance targets in a new three-year business plan yesterday, sending its shares more than 3 percent higher. NBG, which wants to become a leading player in Southeast Europe, said it would aim for annual profit growth of at least 30 percent in 2007-2009, meaning its earnings will exceed the 1-billion-euro threshold this year. A day earlier, the group reported a 36 percent rise in 2006 net profit to -990 million. «The profit target set out by National is feasible, as the group is well placed abroad,» said analyst Nick Gallousis at Kappa Securities. NBG has been steadily expanding outside Greece to capture a slice of market growth it expects in the underbanked markets of Bulgaria, Romania, Albania and Serbia. It was the first Greek bank to venture into Turkey last year by acquiring midsized Finansbank and is also exploring opportunities in Ukraine. «We plan to strengthen our presence in Turkey and Romania. In Bulgaria we are planning to open more than 100 branches,» NBG CEO Takis Arapoglou told investors during a presentation in London. He said the group would continue to look for acquisitions in select regions as part of its strategy to become a regional heavyweight. Arapoglou said NBG’s Turkish operations would contribute 30 percent of revenues by 2009, with Southeast Europe accounting for 13 percent and 57 percent coming from Greece. «Our aspiration is to achieve a double-digit share of the Turkish retail loan market and more than double profit by 2009,» he said. Based on the plan, the group will aim for a return on equity of 24 percent and a cost-to-income ratio of less than 44 percent by 2009. At home, retail credit and lending to small and medium-sized businesses will continue to be the main growth driver, NBG executives said. Expanding business volumes will offset an expected convergence of interest rate spreads with eurozone averages. (Reuters)