National keeps its sights on Egypt

National Bank, the country’s largest lender, plans to continue with efforts to penetrate the Egyptian market after missing out earlier this week on a bid to buy one of the largest lenders in the Arab country. National Bank, along with a number of local rivals, has been expanding into developing markets to offset slowing credit expansion and rising competition in the Greek market. The bank, which already operates in 12 countries, said it aims to expand its activities in the fast-growing Egyptian market, where it currently maintains one branch. «National Bank continues to be interested in its growth in Egypt and is moving ahead with the organic expansion of its network,» the bank said in a filing with the Athens bourse yesterday, without giving further details. Earlier this week, Egypt canceled the auction of a stake in its third-largest bank, Banque du Caire, saying bids were too low, rejecting a National Bank offer worth $2.025 billion. The country is expected to enjoy strong growth of over 7 percent in 2008, as compared to an estimated 3.6 percent expansion of gross domestic product in Greece. The Greek lender had in the past announced plans to operate an 11-branch network in Cairo and Alexandria. National, valued at 14.1 billion euros on the Athens stock exchange, in 2006 completed the biggest ever foreign investment by a Greek bank, buying into Turkey’s Finansbank. Net profits from Finansbank and SE European operations account for some 42 percent of National’s group earnings. Its CEO Takis Arapoglou recently told Kathimerini that the bank’s future lies abroad if it wants to remain an independent operator. National Bank shares have dropped 36.6 percent in the last month, versus a 14 percent drop on the Athens bourse as a whole, as financial stocks have come under heavy selling pressure in global markets on profit concerns.