The disappointing performance of financial sector firms caused the total profitability of 333 companies listed on the Athens Stock Exchange (ASE) to fall by 14 percent to 1.62 billion euros in the first quarter of 2002 from a year earlier, recently announced results show. The earnings of all firms except banks, insurance and closed-end investment funds rose by 4 percent from a 5-percent rise in turnover. Of the 333 firms, more than half (174) posted improved results. Telecommunications led the profit-makers, contributing 30 percent of total profits and 22 percent of turnover. Hopes are now staked on the three listed telecoms firms, OTE, its subsidiary CosmOTE and Vodafone Panafon, that they may act as a pole of attraction for new investment from abroad to lift the stock market out of its current doldrums. The strong performers Construction companies again exhibited considerable strength in the first quarter. The big firms in the sector with a large backlog of orders showed an improvement in both profitability and turnover, despite the high cost of mergers and acquisitions designed to make them qualify for bigger projects. Cement manufacturers followed suit, with clearly improved profit margins. Petroleum companies and the recently listed Public Power Corporation put on a promising performance in the energy sector. Refineries were particularly favored by the economic climate due to the high price of the euro and the high price of oil, but the growth in their results is projected to slow down somewhat in the next quarters. Entertainment and gaming companies are registering sky-rocketing profitability growth rates, possessing perhaps the most attractive valuations of any sector. Publishing and printing companies seemed to be recovering after a very bad year in 2001 and are expected to see rising demand for their products and services in 2002. Tobacco manufacturers improved profit margins despite increasing taxes and restrictions on the use of their products. Firms in the foodstuffs and health sectors also seem to have withstood their ground after successful efforts to contain operating expenses. Information technology and holdings present a mixed picture, while the beginning of major turnaround operations in big hotels will probably leave the sector as a whole without any profits this year. India, a major client over the years, sealed a contract with Bulgaria «worth tens of millions of dollars» earlier this year and was also eying new deals, Keremedchiev said. He said Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait were also interested.