ECONOMY

Investors expect big deals to provide a boost to ASE in 2004

This year will not only be a year of elections and the Olympics, there will also be several important developments on the business front. The first signs from the Athens Stock Exchange (ASE) point to developments in banks, metallurgy, foods and beverages, information technology and passenger shipping. Specifically, the first major development in the banking sector is the finalization of the sale of General Bank to France’s Societe Generale, after the government’s decision to pick the bank directly and not wait for the results of a bidding process. The French bank will acquire 24 percent of General Bank at first, but its eventual goal is to acquire a majority stake. Apart from this deal, investors have placed their hopes for a further boost to the ASE on a mega-deal involving two of the following banks: National, Alpha, EFG Eurobank Ergasias and Piraeus. In the foods sector, the market is awaiting developments concerning the Nikas processed-meat industry. The company’s founder recently met with the management of two mass catering companies, Grigoris and Goody’s, sparking rumors about possible partnerships. In the information technology sector, there are developments involving Forthnet and Delta-Singular. The latter recently acquired 100 percent of Internet Hellas from Forthnet. There are rumors that a large US-based group wants to buy Delta-Singular, an Alpha Bank group company. There are also rumors of a strategic investor in Forthnet following Minoan Lines’ sale of its stake in the company. The State is searching for a strategic investor to undertake the management of EYDAP, Athens’s water and sewage company, as well as acquiring a 20.9 percent stake in the firm. There will be an international tender to find a strategic manager. There is much interest from both domestic and foreign companies. The deregulation of passenger shipping routes, which took effect on January 1, is expected to lead to a battle between Strintzis Lines and ANEK for the profitable Piraeus-Hania route. Minoan Lines is looking for a partner and is said to look favorably on a deal with fellow Cretan company ANEK. Attica Enterprises is also said to have found a partner. In the metals sector, the rise in the prices of aluminum, iron and copper will favor companies’ profit margins, but the strong euro could have a negative impact on exports.