ECONOMY

Greek equity culture shaken by bourse’s long bear run

For Dimitrios Ninos, 67, a pensioner and long-time retail investor at the Athens Stock Exchange, 2002 can only be described as an annus horibilis. «The stock market was very bad this year [last year],» he moaned, starring at the trading screen nailed up at the information centre for investors. «We are trapped because we bought when shares were very expensive and we can’t sell now because prices are too cheap.» Greece’s equity culture has taken a hard knock since the bubble burst in late 1999, just days after the benchmark share index hit a record 6,355.04 points. The general share index shed close to a fifth of its value in 2001 while last year the decline was even steeper. «The general share index lost slightly less than a third of its value last year, making it the third consecutive year of decline,» said Athanassios Karanikolas, head of technical analysis at Contalexis Financial Services. Turnover last year was just as dismal. At just over 20 billion euros, it was only slightly more than half of the revenues generated in 2001. The market’s total capitalization stood at just above 66 billion euros, a substantial decline from the 97 billion euros recorded at the end of 2001. New share issues from telecoms operator OTE, state-controlled lottery games operator OPAP and electricity utility PPC, which accounted for 80 percent of the capital raised last year, drained the market of liquidity. Athens’s woes mirrored the gloom at bourses around the world. The Frankfurt Dax fell by more than 40 percent last year due in part to Germany’s sluggish growth, making it the worst performing market in the world. The Paris CAC shed close to a third of its value, putting it in the top 10 of the worst performers, along with the Nikkei 225 and the Hong Kong Hang Seng. The Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange also took significant hits as US corporate scandals and accounting misdeeds turned investors away. The current spate of uncertainties is definitely hampering any chances of a recovery, said Karanikolas. «A possible war with Iraq, high oil prices – all this is like the sword of Damocles hanging over the investor’s head,» he said. «Things, however, should get better in the second half of 2003.» Spyros Antypas, 43, a retail investor for more than 10 years, holds a similarly optimistic view of the market. «I believe it will be better in 2003, as companies repair their balance sheets, community structural funds start flowing in and tourism-related industries perk up ahead of the 2004 Olympic Games,» he said. Ninos said it’s important that investors take a long-term view of their share holdings. «I have been an investor for 15 years and I haven’t lost money. Those who are in a hurry and out for a quick buck are the ones who lose money.»