National Bank (NBG), the country’s biggest lender, reported a better-than-expected 15 percent rise in first-half net profit to 835 million euros thanks to solid lending growth in Greece and southeastern Europe. Analysts in a Reuters poll expected net profit of 808 million euros on average, with estimates ranging from 783 to 825 million euros. «The unique structure of our funding base shields us from the current turmoil and allows us to continue with our expansion plans,» National Bank Chief Executive Takis Arapoglou said in a statement yesterday. «The results of the first two quarters reinforce our conviction that prudent profitable growth, combined with ample liquidity and a strong capital position, is the only way forward in order to realize our strategic objectives,» he added. The group’s net interest income grew by 20 percent, in line with expectations, to 1.73 billion euros. Despite stiff competition for deposits and increased funding costs, net interest margin held at around 4.30 percent for a fourth straight quarter since the credit crisis erupted, it said. NBG – also present in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Albania and Egypt – said Turkish subsidiary Finansbank generated 29 percent of group net earnings. Analysts cited senior National Bank officials as telling them in a conference call that solid growth in Finansbank is seen as being sustainable despite recent economic and political problems in the neighboring country. Group loans expanded by 25 percent year-on-year to 61.4 billion euros. In Greece, the pace of retail lending remained strong – up 20 percent year-on-year. Consumer loans and credit card balances grew 27 percent with mortgages up 17 percent. Loans to small businesses and professionals rose 22 percent. Shares in National Bank, which has a market capitalization of some 14.4 billion euros, jumped yesterday 3.72 percent to 28.98 euros, before the earnings were made pubic. The broader Athens market advanced 0.74 percent.