‘Odds are in our favor’: Greece’s biggest bank

Leslie Shaffer | Writer for
Piraeus CEO: Things are changing in Athens

Greece is finally emerging from its deflationary six-year recession and the odds are in favor of not just an economic recovery but also solid investment returns ahead, the CEO of the country's largest domestic bank told CNBC.

"The opportunity in Greece has not run its course. We're just starting to get into positive growth territory and that will produce returns which some investors may wish to partake," Anthimos Thomopoulos, CEO of Piraeus Bank, told CNBC in an exclusive interview.

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Greece is expected to see economic growth of around 0.6 percent this year, according to Eurozone estimates, but that follows an around 5 percent contraction last year. In two years' time, the economy could grow by as much as 3.3 percent, according to the government's economic projections.

To be sure, the country isn't out of the woods yet. Greece has the highest unemployment rate in the region at 26.7 percent, with youth unemployment, or for the 15-24 age group, a staggering 56.8 percent.

Kostas Tsironis | Bloomberg | Getty Images

"A lot of work has been done. A lot has to be done. We have to continue the same course for quite some time to deliver a new Greece," Thomopoulos said. "But there's an overwhelming support to that program, there's overwhelming support to giving Greece a new chance," he added.

"The years to come will prove that as a wise choice for people who decide to step in and invest in Greece at this point in time," he said. "The odds are in our favor after a long time."

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Investors have certainly already responded positively to the outlook. The Athens composite index is up around 4.5 percent so far this year and up more than 23 percent over the past 12 months.

On April 10 this year, for the first time in four years, the country returned to the markets, with a five-year bond issue, selling 3 billion euros (around $4.18 billion) of debt to private investors at a yield of 4.95 percent. Over the course of the Eurozone debt crisis, Greek bond yields had risen as high as 25 percent.

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Piraeus Bank has benefited from investors' interest in Greece.

Earlier this year, the bank raised around 1.75 billion euros in fresh capital from the equity market to meet financial stability requirements. Although the offering was at an around 10 percent discount to the market price, the stock has since traded in positive territory, Thomopoulos said.

In addition, the bank sold a 500 million euro bond offering, which attracted around 3 billion euros worth of interest.

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"That was to signal the return to the funding markets … to underline that we, the prime lender in Greece, are becoming stronger and stronger. And capable to lever up the economy and take it out of its current difficulties," he said. He noted that he was in Hong Kong to talk with the bank's investor base in the region.

"There's been a lot of interest from Asia Pacific in Greek banks," he noted.

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Thomopoulos wasn't always so optimistic about the outlook. He told CNBC in September 2013 that Greek non-performing loans (NPLs) – loans that are in, or close, to default – were still rising, and that the situation was "ugly."

But now he believes things are changing for the better.

"The sentiment has improved, retail sales are up, auto sales are up, consumer confidence is up, PMI numbers are better," he said. "The government has done a great job to bring the fiscal situation back in check. More good news will come out of the discussion with our European peers for further debt alleviation measures which will bring the country in debt sustainable levels for good."

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1