ECONOMY

Oil prices and tourism, chief worries of Greek businesses

The Greek economy and firms, due to their small size and relatively inward-looking orientation, can hope for a very small share in the reconstruction that is likely to follow the end of the war in Iraq. But they are affected crucially, particularly as a result of the impact on oil prices and tourism, Iraq’s biggest currency earner. The rise in the price of oil make the raw material so expensive that the refineries, Hellenic Petroleum, Motor Oil and Petrola, have to pass on the increase to the consumer. They may benefit or lose, depending on the policy of stocks they follow and their strategy for hedging risk resulting from the fluctuations in oil prices. Cement industries, Titan and Heracles, are likely to benefit from exports for the reconstruction program. But analysts say that Greek cement is of a high quality but its price is significantly higher in relation to that produced in Egypt, for instance. Iron goes with cement; there are expectations for metallurgy industries, particularly the Stassinopoulos group, which already has a notable exporting presence in the Middle East. Among those looking forward to gaining a share of the pie are some construction companies that have already worked in the area, particularly in Jordan and Lebanon. Their hopes mainly rest on obtaining subcontracting deals from big foreign companies. Coastal shipping companies would like to see a quick end to the war, leading to a fall in the price of oil, which has sent operating costs skyrocketing. The sector is already burdened with a high debt load. Tourism enterprises also hope for a speedy and relatively painless outcome. Inflows from foreign visitors sustain not only tourism enterprises but dozens of other related sectors; food manufacturers, ice cream, refreshment and beverage companies, clothing and commerce, entertainment and banks are all direct beneficiaries of a robust performance by the tourism sector. One sector that stands out in contrast is that of mobile telephony; business is strong, with messages of an anti-war content. Is war good for stocks? Although analysts and economic historians may carefully study past conflict to strike the best recipe for handsome profit in wartime, it is apparent that the circumstances are materially different each time. The outbreak of WWI caused tremendous panic in European and US stock markets, which were shut down for long periods. By contrast, when Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, the Dow Jones Industrials shot up 10 percent, fueled by investors’ expectations for public investment in defense industries. The bombing of Pearl Harbor caused a drop of 3 percent, and the Dow continued to slide until 1942, when a strong upward rally began that lasted beyond the end of the war.