* Alpha Q1 profit more than doubles q/q to 48.1 mln euros
* Loan impairment charges fall 19 pct q/q (Adds CEO comment, details, background)
By George Georgiopoulos
ATHENS, May 31 (Reuters) - Greece’s Alpha Bank was profitable for a third straight quarter in January-to-March as provisions for impaired loans declined, Greece’s fourth-largest lender by assets said on Wednesday.
Alpha, 11 percent owned by the country’s bank rescue fund HFSF, grew net profit to 48.1 million euros ($54.05 million) from net earnings of 20.1 million in the fourth quarter, with its bottom line broadly in line with market expectations.
Greek banks including Alpha are struggling with problem loan portfolios after a deep, protracted recession pushed unemployment to record highs, making it hard for borrowers to service their debts.
Banks entered the 2008 global financial crisis with bad loans, or non-performing exposures (NPEs), of 14.5 billion euros, about 5.5 percent of their loan books. NPEs rose to 106.9 billion, or 51 percent, last year.
Lenders have agreed with regulators on ambitious bad debt reduction targets, aiming to cut their NPEs to 66.7 billion euros by 2019 to bring their ratio to 34 percent of total loans, down from 51 percent at the end of 2016.
“We continue to focus on our plan to limit our NPEs and further improving our performance, reducing the stock,” CEO Dimitris Mantzounis said in a statement.
He said the completion of Greece’s second bailout review will help restore confidence and facilitate the economy’s return to growth this year.
Alpha reduced its NPE stock at home by 123 million euros with the group’s ratio at 53.8 percent of total loans at the end of March.
Its non-performing loans ratio, which refers to credit past due for more than 90 days, was steady at 38.1 percent of its book.
Provisions for bad debt fell 19 percent quarter-on-quarter to 247 million euros from 304 million in the fourth quarter.
Alpha’s reliance on central bank borrowing to cover its funding gap came down by 1.3 billion euros in the quarter to 17 billion, mainly the result of increased repo transactions in the interbank market.
Borrowing from the Greek central bank’s emergency liquidity assistance window (ELA) was reduced by one billion euros to 12.2 billion at end March.
Alpha said its deposit balances edged up by 100 million euros to 33.1 billion in the first quarter, as large corporate inflows offset outflows from households.
$1 = 0.8900 euros Reporting by George Georgiopoulos, editing by David Evans