ECONOMY

A lack of buying interest hits capitalizations on the ASE

The decline of blue chip and mid-scale capitalizations three months after the year-high of 2,310.52 points appears to signal a return of the Athens Stock Exchange (ASE) to the subdued climate of recent years. The lack of momentum no doubt indicates weak buying interest; foreign institutionals are being very selective about Greek stocks while ASE lobbies seemed to have reclined on the sidelines, opting for peripheral stocks. Deutsche Bank’s sale of its stake in EFG Eurobank Ergasias earlier this month resulted in the Greek bank losing its second place in terms of market capitalization among ASE-listed stocks to the National Bank; OTE Telecom remains number one. At the close of the market on Wednesday, OTE capitalization stood at 4.798 billion euros (compared to 5.786 billion on August 22); National Bank was at 4.677 billion and EFG Eurobank at 4.221 billion euros. Of the 20 shares on the FTSE/ASE blue chip index, only four have seen their capitalization rise since August 22. Alpha Bank, with its successful placement with institutional investors last month, improved its capital structure and achieved wider dispersion; its market capitalization now stands near the 3.9-billion-euro level. Hellenic Petroleum has also shown satisfactory gains and foreign investment houses rate it as one of the best buys on ASE. Mobile phone operator Vodafone-Panafon is showing small gains, whereas telecoms equipment maker Intracom has lost considerable ground, with its capitalization receding from 923 million euros in August to 684 million. Gaming and betting systems operator OPAP has risen from 3.4 billion in August to 3.457 billion on Wednesday. The sharp decline in the US dollar and the global economic downturn have taken their toll on Aluminium of Greece’s results and share value; its capitalization now stands at around 357 million euros. The same picture is true of Greece’s biggest exporting group, Viohalco, whose stock market value has receded below 1 billion euros; the group has invested more than 800 million euros since 1999, doubling its industrial productive capacity. It is about to complete projects in its subsidiaries ELVAL, north of Athens, Bridgnorth Aluminium in England, and in Sofia Med and Stomana Industry in Bulgaria. The capitalizations of two more blue chips, Piraeus Bank and Titan Cement, are also down. Low capitalizations may be an opportunity for investment in blue chips, but it is always worth remembering that foreign institutionals, who today control most of them, are the first to liquidate in a downturn. Mid-caps present much the same picture. Of the 40 shares comprising the FTSE/ASE mid-cap index, only five have risen in value since August: Germanos, Elbisco Holdings, Folli-Follie, Ethniki General Insurance, and Papastratos. The first three are strongly active abroad, while Ethniki remains top in its sector, with considerable gains since January. Papastratos is about to be delisted after being acquired by Philip Morris.