ECONOMY

Better days seen ahead for lenders

The negative atmosphere in the banking sector is showing clear signs of reversal, with the market responding favorably to reports about possible acquisition moves from abroad, although these have not been confirmed. As the sector is still awaiting the government’s response to the Piraeus Bank proposal for the buyout of ATEbank and Hellenic Postbank (TT), many are expecting additional suitors for TT. Yesterday reports in Turkey argued that Ziraat Bank, which has branches in Athens and Komotini, has expressed an interest in ATEbank, but the Turkish state bank refuted the rumor. Reports in Britain also noted that ING was interested in the acquisition of Marfin Popular Bank at a price of 2.20 euros per share. Marfin issued a statement rejecting the report, stressing that it was not aware of anything reported in the story. Consequently, after months of controversy and serious doubt regarding the local credit system’s capacity to withstand pressure, worries are subsiding and there is widespread expectation of a radical restructuring in the sector. Bank executives are exploring alternative options to the creation of large groups that the government has proposed and note the high number of bank share transactions in the stock market, which they attribute to placements by foreign institutional investors. Yesterday alone 8.05 million Alpha Bank shares changed hands, as did 5.2 million National Bank shares, 3.2 million Eurobank EFG shares and 1.5 million Piraeus Bank shares. Such placements are welcome, the executives suggest, but they are also cautious as they monitor any combined purchases aimed at creating strategic positions.