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National Bank of Greece Delivers

By Dale Baker – Updated Nov 15, 2016 at 1:06AM

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One Fool's bet on this dynamic growth play has paid off.

Preliminary fourth-quarter results from National Bank of Greece (NYSE:NBG), one of the banks I profiled in a collection of international-bank stocks in December, showed that NBG's growth strategy at home and around the region is paying off.

More established European banking names such as ING (NYSE:ING), HSBC (NYSE:HBC), and Deutsche Bank (NYSE:DB) are just too huge to deliver the kind of growth that NBG did in its latest quarter. Ditto Citigroup (NYSE:C) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM).

Group net income at NBG increased 36% in the fourth quarter on strong retail credit operations, beating the Citigroup analyst estimates by 10% at 199 million euros (1 euro is currently equal to $1.31). Net interest margins expanded to 3.76% from 3.5%.

Loan growth was high throughout NBG's operations in Greece, Turkey, and the Southeast Europe region. NBG subsidiary Finansbank in Turkey scored the highest, with 76% growth in retail loans, similar increases in small-business and corporate lending, and mortgage growth of 122%. Equally important, more than 100 new branches opened in 2006 for a total of 309 Finansbank branches now in operation.

"Finansbank's results were particularly encouraging. Its profitability ... confirmed our expectations, exceeding 156 million euros," said Chief Executive Takis Arapoglou in a statement.

Southeast Europe lending also sparkled with 44% growth. NBG opened 95 new branches in the region, for a current total of 352 in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Albania. Even domestic Greek lending grew 20%, up from 17% growth in the third quarter.

What do you have to pay for NBG's growth? Not a lot in P/E terms. The trailing P/E is comfortably less than 20, with 45% earnings-per-share growth expected in 2007 and a forward P/E of 13. Growth is slated to continue in 2008; Citigroup shows estimated earnings that give a 2008 forward P/E of less than 10, at today's prices.

Citigroup raised its price target for NBG to 50 euros ($12.50 for the American Depositary Receipts), leaving more than 20% upside from current price levels.

The initial NBG shares I bought near $9 late last year are now a staple holding in my long-term portfolio. Strong growth at low prices is a good margin of safety for value investors.

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JPMorgan Chase is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. 

Fool contributor Dale Baker, a private-client portfolio manager and former U.S. diplomat with extensive experience in Europe and Africa, owns shares in NBG. He welcomes your questions and comments at [email protected]. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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