Foreign investors sniff out opportunities in Athens

A flurry of foreign institutional and private investors representing private equity funds, distressed asset funds and official sector investment schemes, as well as Greek investors from abroad, has been observed in Athens in recent days.

According to well-informed sources, representatives of the state-funded China Investment Corporation (CIC) are in contact with Greek businesspeople, eyeing the acquisition of trademarks recognizable in Europe and the US. The talks are reportedly at an advanced stage.

In the hotel sector, a number of discussions have been reported regarding the acquisition of units owned by groups with a large debt load or by Greek banks. The list of prospective investors includes France?s real estate multinational Klepierre corporation, the US-based Carlton Group, investment vehicles owned by Donald Trump and Soros Fund Management, the Geneva-based Bridge Over Group and Japanese investment bank Aristagora Advisors Co.

Separately, Greeks based abroad are reported to be scanning the market through realtors such as King Hellas for top-end hotel concerns that are facing serious liquidity problems. Calamos Asset Management, of Greek-American John P. Calamos, has property, businesses and privatizations on its agenda. Also, Greek realtors frequently refer to strong buying interest on the part of Russian business groups.

The list of tourism sector enterprises being eyed includes the luxury Astir Palace resort, some 25 kilometers south of Athens, which is controlled by National Bank of Greece, the Athens Hilton and a number of facilities managed by the Public Real Estate Company (KED). Market circles estimate that the number of hotels from all categories in the broader Attica area around Athens that are looking for buyers totals more than 100, in Thessaloniki and Halkidiki about 80, and in the country as a whole more than 1,000.

Greylock Capital Management, which became known through its placements in Greek sovereign bonds, is also reported to have sent representatives to Athens, as has French investment bank Montpelier Capital, which is focusing on small and midsized (but large by Greek standards) firms. Greylock and Montpelier, along with Owl Creek Asset Management, which represents hedge funds and private investors, participated in visits earlier this year to Greek-listed companies organized by investment banking boutique Exotix and Beta Securities.

Interest in doing business with Greek enterprises and in the planned privatizations has also been expressed by large official sector funds and agencies, such as the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development and Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, Qatar?s Holding LLC and the Korea Trade Promotion Corporation. Norwegian and Australian social security funds are also on the list.

Greek investment vehicles such as Lead Finance are reportedly active in the buyout of firms facing problems due to the economic crisis in Greece.