Greek investors abroad enter a new phase of expansion, partnerships

With the bulk of Greek investments abroad concentrated in the Balkans, especially in Bulgaria and Romania, the investment effort of the past 10 years appears to be entering a new phase with many interesting novel features both in the kind of investments being undertaken and their goals. According to the estimates of reliable business and diplomatic sources, in the past three years – which can in no way be considered a period of investment explosion – Greek businesses have directed 850 million euros into investment in the Balkans, with Bulgaria alone accounting for 500 million. These investments, made mostly to boost production of Greek-controlled firms, herald in a new phase for Greek investments. The most important feature of this new phase is that the industries and trade networks either set up by Greek companies (Coca-Cola HBC, Viohalco, Silver and Baryte, Loulis Mills and others), or with the help of specialized Greek companies, such as Global Finance, have now acquired the required size and share of the local market to begin acting more like local investors. This shows the degree of entrenchment in the markets these companies are active in and points to their future expansion prospects. The most important feature is that most industries – especially those in the foods sector – are adopting a far more sophisticated strategy concerning their presence in the area. Free of the initial concerns about whether their foothold in a foreign market would be successful, they are now looking at neighboring countries: how to export there, create distribution networks and enter into partnerships with local or international investors. Decisions about Greek firms’ foreign investments are increasingly taken at the local level, where the initial investment was made. This shift in decision-making has facilitated the creation of vehicles for further investment or the development of ambitious business plans with the active participation of local businessmen and foreign institutional investors. These developments have a positive impact on Greek businesses’ perceptions about multinational investments, both in the sense of the provenance of capital and the management that implements the investments. It would be important to mention here two examples, the first of which involves capital provenance. Two-thirds of the capital managed by Global Finance – one of the main actors facilitating investment in the Balkans – comes from a wide range of sources, from international organizations and investment houses to Gulf states. Company managers remark that the wide range of capital sources is in itself a guarantee for the success of its investments. The second example concerns the participation of Dimitris Kontominas – former owner of insurance company Interamerican – in the consortium that controls a majority stake in the Makedonski Telecomunikacii group, the formerly state-owned telecoms monopoly in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Specifically, Kontominas, through a company called Cosmotelco owns a 7.4 percent stake in Stonebridge Communications AD Skopje, which, in turn, controls 51 percent of the telecom group. Besides Cosmotelco, Stonebridge’s main shareholders are Hungary’s Matav, a Deutsche Telekom subsidiary, and SEEF, controlled by international financier George Soros. The main feature of the shareholders and the management structure of Makedonski Telecomunikacii is multinationality and a new kind of collective effort (new at least for the Greek participants) which transcends individual interests and concentrates on the common goal, making the investment grow and prosper. A similar example concerns the participation of Novabank in Turkey’s banking sector. The Greek bank, of which the majority share is controlled by Portugal’s Millenium BCP, owns 100 percent of Istanbul-based Bankeuropa, which employs some of the best local managers.