ECONOMY

First-half private bank figures are set to impress

The country’s three major private banks are today due to issue their first-half results, as the local banking sector sees profits soar to record levels, thanks mainly to strong credit expansion in the domestic market and increasing revenues from abroad. The announcement of first-half results started earlier this month, with the Bank of Cyprus posting impressive profits of -230 million (up 58 percent), far above forecasts, as well as a strong rise in activity both at home and abroad. Emporiki Bank, in contrast, created more concern about its future as its profits fell by 33.5 percent. The decline would have been greater had it not been for extraordinary profits from the sale of Phoenix-Metrolife Insurance. The considerable 54.4 percent rise in Emporiki’s provisions stirred memories of Geniki Bank’s French nightmare, since it has been bought by Societe Generale. Since its acquisition in 2004, Geniki has shown steady losses due to slow operations and continuous requirements in terms of provisions. Yet it may still be too early to predict the fate of Emporiki, now owned by France’s Credit Agricole. Emporiki managed to post gains in the year’s H1 despite a major restructuring and transformation program currently under way, plus efforts to upgrade the quality of its loan portfolio to European standards. Moreover, in the second quarter Emporiki succeeded in increasing its share of mortgage credit, the most competitive field in the local banking market. Emporiki is considered to be a special case and only when the French complete their program will the bank’s true potential be apparent. What is now certain is that Greek banking news for the first half of the year will be exceptional, with major private banks showing strong growth in activity and record profits. News is positive from all directions: credit expansion continues at rapid rates, the business climate is improving, activities abroad are growing more rapidly than expected and the particularly positive climate in stock markets is adding more revenues from non-banking activity. Today’s Piraeus Bank results are expected to be particularly impressive. Analysts forecast profits to rise to -335 million, a 36 percent increase, although sources suggest they may be somewhat lower. In the last few years, the group has developed a strong momentum with figures far above the market’s average. Tomorrow it will be the turn of EFG Eurobank, with analysts expecting a 25 percent rise in profits, though this may actually prove very conservative given the group’s excellent performance abroad. Eurobank has a 900-branch network in six countries, employing over 10,500 people abroad. Piraeus and Eurobank have decided major share capital increases, of -1.35 billion and -1.2 billion respectively, dictated by high growth rates in Greece and abroad. Alpha Bank is set to announce its own H1 results on Wednesday, with a rise of 43 percent forecast by analysts. The group’s counterattack in retail banking over the last three years is yielding results. The strong capital position of the group gives its management great flexibility to rapidly realize its ambitious expansion plans outside the country. National Bank of Greece results are eagerly anticipated at end-August. NBG has impressed observers with the exceptional course of its subsidiary in Turkey, Finansbank. That gives Greece’s biggest lender the international edge over all other local banks.