After a long dry spell, three of Greece’s biggest banks have posted profits in the first half of 2014. Admittedly, the return to black is partly due to special taxation affects, but also to drastic cost-cutting. Yet the belt-tightening must continue, as Greek banks face new stress tests by the European Central Bank.
The industry leader National Bank of Greece is in the best shape, with profits of €1.146 billion, or about $1.48 billion, for the first half-year.
The bank also had the lowest quota of non-performing loans: 23.2 percent, compared to the industry average of 34 percent. The head of NGB, Alexandros Tourkolias, is the only top Greek banker to have the luxury of calmly awaiting the stress test results. With a level 1 core capital quota of 16.2 percent in the second quarter, Mr. Tourkolias said his bank is on the safe side and won’t require additional capital.
For the first half of this year, Alpha Bank had an after-tax profit of €361.6 million, and Piraeus Bank earned €202 million. Only Eurobank has not yet returned to profit and posted losses of €301 million.
After Greece’s debt haircut in February 2012 as part of the euro zone bailout, Greek banks lost almost €38 billion, or about $49.2 billion – far more than their owned capital of €22.1 billion. Of 19 Greek banks in business then, only nine remain. The others were liquidated or taken over. Today the four “system-relevant banks” – those whose collapse would threaten Europe’s financial landscape – hold 98 percent of deposits in Greece.
Last year, the four large institutions were recapitalized with €27.5 billion in the second Greek rescue package. With capital increases this spring, the banks took in €8.3 billion more on the markets. Still, experts predict that new stress tests could indicate more capital is needed at Eurobank, Alpha Bank and Piräus Bank. Anastasia Sakellariou, head of the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund, is not worried. “If there proves to be a need for additional capital, I believe it will be readily available,” she said.
Even if more than €11 billion is still available from the aid package provided by the European Union, the banks hope to avoid accepting any more state assistance. For that reason, they want to reduce costs further and sell assets.