ECONOMY

No light at end of tunnel for bourse recovery

After a debilitating downturn lasting 43 months, the Athens Stock Exchange (ASE) is now learning to live more than ever before with the world crisis to which it has been exposed. The most disheartening sign is that despite the fact that stocks are at a five-year low, investors are showing absolutely no willingness to return. The most serious question seems to be whether the bourse can avoid further losses in the current crisis. Twelve years ago, while Operation Desert Storm was under way, the ASE fell for a month and then gained more than 50 percent once the war was over. During the week now ending, the bourse registered gains, in line with other European stock markets, except in the session on Thursday, March 20. Analysts attributed the upturn to the fact that US President George W. Bush’s television address to the American nation eliminated any uncertainties regarding the war, and markets appeared to take the view that it would be of a short duration and oil prices would soon recede. Stockbrokers take the view that the effect of this Iraq war cannot be compared with 1991, as conditions are completely different; the ASE now has no relation to the ASE then. Listed firms were then much fewer and investing interest was minimal, whereas now the market is reeling from a downturn lasting 3.5 years and investors seem scared after such a bad run. At the time of the big 1987 crisis on Wall Street that affected the whole of Europe, stock market accounts numbered no more than 100,000; now they approach 2 million, although most of them are inactive. During the 1980s, the ASE general price index hovered between 600 and 800 points and only three new firms were listed. Stock markets took slightly over six months to recover from the effects of the Gulf War of 1991. The ASE hovered between 1,000 and 1,500 points before the next crisis of 1993, when Greece was bidding for the Olympic Games of 1996. Expectations were great and this was reflected in stocks but was not to remain. Hopes were revived when the bid for 2004 was submitted in 1996. But they were cut short by the 1997 crisis which primarily affected the «Asian tigers.» This was followed by the Russian crisis of 1998, when investors again abandoned the ASE in droves. But this was only temporary before the great frenzy of 1999 which led to the all-time high of 6,355.04 points on September 17, primarily fueled by the prospect of Greek entry into European Economic and Monetary Union. Current investor psychology does not augur well for the ASE’s short-term prospects. The crash of stock prices has had a more than commensurate effect on confidence. Its restoration will require calm in order to showcase the fundamentals of enterprises worth investing in.