Choppy waters for Black Sea bank

The American, European, and Japanese markets may be the focus of attention of global analysts right now, but the repercussions of the strike at the symbolic heart of America on September 11 may well manifest themselves in domino fashion and be as much or even more detrimental to other segments of the world economy. As part of an effort to monitor the possible repercussions, the European Union has already asked international economic organizations to put forward their initial fears and views. In this context, it has informally (for lack of any institutionally established contacts) asked the Black Sea Trade and Development Bank (BSTDB), based in Thessaloniki, for its assessment of the impact of developments on the 11 member states of the parent organization, the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Council, which besides Greece includes Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova and Romania. BSTDB has to take into account many diverse interests in the region, including countries that are developing at different speeds and have diverse political and cultural characters. Some of them now may well be shifting position on the international chessboard. A general conclusion drawn from the views expressed by BSTDB officials to Kathimerini is that member states may even experience initial benefits but will not be left untouched if the crisis continues and expands, particularly as many of them have weak economies. The fact that the European Union is the main trading partner of countries of the region is seen as a shield for them, but only in the short term. The reduction of interest rates, initiated by the US Federal Reserve, is expected to have a positive impact on them through the lower cost of borrowing. However, if markets do not find an equilibrium soon, there is a danger of a wave of uncertainty and a trend for avoiding risk which will then increase banks’ reluctance to lend to weak economies. This possibility is also closely tied to capital and investment flows to the region, which may well change direction to other, more stable economies. The recent slide of the US dollar seems to favor some of the countries of the Black Sea region in terms of cheaper imports (including oil and petroleum products), which are traded in that currency. But the BSTDB estimates that the likelihood of a further rise in the price of oil and a possible involvement in the crisis of one of the oil-producing countries, such as Russia or Azerbaijan, will increase their revenues but will fuel inflationary pressures and create problems in the balance of payments of oil importers. The important – and still largely unknown – factor is the American reaction and how the crisis will affect other Muslim countries. BSTDB would not venture an opinion on whether certain of its members will come out stronger after the recent events and whether this will influence future cooperation between them. Greece’s potential status in the new situation is also thought to be unclear. In any case, BSTDB officials assert that they will be closely monitoring developments within its member states and will intervene with financial assistance if need be: This, of course, underscores the pressing need for buttressing the macroeconomic base of the countries of the region so that they may better withstand similar crises in future. Third Community Support Framework funds are also expected to be a locomotive of growth for the local economy, Mylonas noted. The economic rally in the Balkans is also expected to underpin Greek growth.