ECONOMY

EFG sets even higher targets

EFG International, the Swiss private bank whose biggest shareholder is the billionaire Latsis family, rose the most ever in Zurich trading after reporting a 48 percent profit increase and raising hiring and net income targets. EFG climbed 11 percent, the biggest gain since the stock started trading in October 2005, to 39 francs at 3.35 p.m. Swiss time. That gives Zurich-based EFG a market value of 5.7 billion francs ($5.2 billion) and pares its decline this year to 14 percent, compared to an 12 percent drop at Swiss rival Bank Sarasin. The bank said 2007 profit increased to 302 million francs compared to 204 million francs a year earlier and that it plans to hire more than 120 bankers this year and increase assets under management from 98.3 billion francs to 121 billion francs. By 2010, EFG is targeting net income of as much as 900 million francs, taking advantage of a slowdown in hiring at competitors. «It is setting ambitious targets,» Helvea analyst Peter Thorne, who rates EFG’s stock a «buy,» said in a note to investors. «We expect them to carry their considerable momentum into the next few years.» EFG has made six acquisitions over the past year to expand operations, including Ashby London Financial in the UK and Toronto-based Bull Wealth Management Group Inc. «This is the time when long-term players such as ourselves see the opportunity to close the gap vis-a-vis some of our larger competitors,» Chief Executive Officer Lawrence Howell told investors and analysts. Acquisitions are possible and hiring will rise «simply because the competition is pulling back,» he said. EFG said it plans to pay a dividend worth 51.3 million francs, or 35 centimes a share, a 17 percent increase over last year. Founded in 1995, EFG was built by the late John Latsis, a self-made Greek shipping tycoon who branched into finance when he bought a Swiss bank from the Onassis family.