Piraeus Bank, Greece’s fourth-largest lender, reported a 12.5 percent higher-than-expected increase in profits in the third quarter of the year, kicking off the reporting season for banks. Piraeus posted a net profit of 157.3 million euros in the third quarter versus an average analyst forecast of 138 million euros. Piraeus Chairman Michalis Sallas said growth is expected to continue in the fourth quarter but warned that difficult conditions will have an impact on operations. «I should emphasize that the market conditions have led our group to retain its loan growth in the fourth quarter, especially abroad,» he said. Piraeus said the annual pace of loan growth slowed to 38 percent from 42 percent in June and 48 percent in March 2008. It said retail lending – mortgages and consumer credit – grew by 22 and 33 percent respectively in the year to September. Although primarily reliant on stable deposit funding, Greek lenders’ strong expansion in Southeast Europe has led to the increased use of market funding.