ECONOMY

Foreigners invest only in bonds

Greece remains an inhospitable country for foreign investors, as data by the Bank of Greece, published yesterday, demonstrate. The data confirm a study by the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE), published on Wednesday, that came to the sad conclusion that the country chases away foreign capital instead of attracting it, and this at a time when it needs it more than ever. According to the central bank’s data, in November 2003 alone there were net foreign capital outflows of 303 million euros. It appears that 2003 will emerge as the worst year so far regarding foreign investment, the Greek economy’s Achilles’ heel. Besides the disinvestment trend, the Bank of Greece data show that the only lure for foreign capital is the one least wanted: state bonds, which the State uses to borrow on and service the public debt. During the first 11 months of 2003, a total of 18.5 billion euros, in foreign funds, were used to buy Treasury bonds and bills, up from 12.2 billion in the same period in 2002 and 8.4 billion in 2001. This is the clearest evidence that Greece’s enormous debt is still growing. As a result, interest payments on holders of Greek bonds and bills have also risen, to 3.6 billion euros in the first 11 months of 2003 from 3.1 billion in the same period a year before. Given that, officially, the public debt, as a percentage of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is declining, these increases demonstrate the existence of a hidden debt that does not make it into the official books, no matter what PM Costas Simitis and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis claim. This debate is, of course, irrelevant to the buyers of Greek debt paper, since they are being paid on time. It does say something, however, about the credibility of our politicians and confirms the widespread use of creative accounting used to hide the real scale of debt and only partly exposed by Eurostat.