ECONOMY

NBG looks abroad in ‘difficult’ year

National Bank (NBG), the country’s largest lender, plans to get through a «difficult» 2010 by watching closely over its loan book and reaping the benefits of expansion abroad after last year’s profits were less than were expected. NBG said yesterday net profits in 2009 fell 37 percent on an annual basis to 971 million euros, falling short of analysts’ expectations for a figure of 1.1 billion euros. Deteriorating economic conditions in Greece, including a sharp rise in jobless numbers, prompted the bank to double the amount of money it put aside for bad loans to 618 million euros. «The increase in provisions is a defensive move. It hurts profits now but provides a cushion for 2010,» an analyst said. A one-off tax payment and a write-down in its stock-and-bond portfolio also weighed on group profits. Loan growth reached 10 percent last year as the bank pumped money into businesses and households, it said. Going beyond the worsening financial picture at home, NBG’s Turkish unit Finansbank provided the group’s only growth segment. Finansbank’s net earnings for 2009 rose 14 percent year-on-year to 425 million euros, accounting for almost half of the group’s profits. Looking ahead, NBG CEO Apostolos Tamvakakis said the lender’s «operational focus this year will be in maintaining asset quality, cost control and taking advantage of the momentum in international operations.»