War, invasion, coups and finances have prompted Greek stock closures

War, invasion, coups and finances have prompted Greek stock closures

When Greece shut its stock market in late June it was far from a unique occurrence. Financial issues have plagued Greece, but the history of closures on the 139-year old bourse is also the history of war, invasion, coups and natural disasters.

It reflects the complex story of modern Greece, which has struggled to develop against a wave of outside and self-inflicted setbacks since gaining the first foothold of independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821.

Stock market officials and historians calculate that the Athens stock exchange has been forced to cease trading for at least a day on 14 other occasions since the bourse was founded and started trading in 1876.

Financial mayhem such as that which prompted capital controls in late June this year has played its part. There was a long closure in late 1918 after the end of World War One, for example, when the authorities decided that a big fall in stock prices may have stemmed from illegal coordination of sales.

Just as typical, however, was the Sept. 16 to Nov. 14, 1912 closure brought on by the First Balkan War pitting Greece, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria against Ottoman Turkey.

Similarly, the bourse shut down between July and September 1974 when Turkey invaded Cyprus in response to a Greek-inspired coup and Greek armed forces were involved in clashes with the Turkish army on the island.

The Greek market opened on Monday after a five-week closure, only to see stocks plummet around 23 percent at the start. It has been closed for at least five weeks on other occasions.

There was no bourse trading for about three months in 1914 at the outbreak of World War One. The Macedonia, or Salonica, Front on the northern Greek border became a brutal, if sometimes forgotten, killing field.

It closed again between October and December 1940 when Italy declared war and invaded from Albania.

Then-Greek leader Ioannis Metaxas famously said "Oxi" or "No" when Italy demanded that his country surrender, a comment that held resonance for Greeks during the June referendum in which most rejected more austerity from international lenders.

The bourse was also shut from September to December 1931, when the Bank of England abandoned the Gold Standard, upsetting global markets.

Shorter closures accompanied the end in 1923 of a string of wars between Greece and Turkey, the 1941 German invasion after the Italians failed, and when the military junta in 1972-72 forced commercial banks to sell Greek central bank shares and 45 percent of their shares portfolio.

There was, however, no closure when Greek finances were roughly matched by what they are today.

The market didn't close in 1893 – not even for one day – when then-Prime Minister Charilaos Trikoupis made his famous comment – "Unfortunately, we are bankrupt".

— Sources: "The History of the Greek Stock Market" by Michael Platanopoulos; Greek stock market

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