Five big companies drive ASE expansion early in 2004; Maillis is top performer

The stars of the Athens Stock Exchange this year, thus far, are OTE Telecom, the National Bank of Greece, EFG Eurobank Ergasias, Alpha Bank and Coca-Cola HBC. The five top heavyweights may not be the top gainers but it is to them and, by extension, to the other 15 blue chips, that investors have been turning in recent months and which have driven the market’s expansion. Their already considerable capitalization has further increased this year. Foreign investors look primarily to the MSCI Greece index when making their investment decisions. Among the 23 stocks that comprise the MSCI, 14 have seen the value of their stock and, consequently, of their capitalization, rise this year and only nine have gone in the opposite direction. The latter include cigarette maker Papastratos and mobile telephony provider Vodafone-Panafon, which are on the verge of being de-listed from the ASE after their parent companies bought the totality of the shares. The greatest improvement among the MSCI index component stocks has been made by M.I. Maillis, which, at the end of Thursday’s session, had risen 17.24 percent. The packaging company’s management, headed by founder and chairman Michael Maillis, has made the consolidation of the group’s presence in the US market its top priority. Through a series of investments and acquisitions, the Maillis Group boosted its sales 25-fold, to 300 million euros, between 1994 and 2002. From a single product, metal hoops in 1994, it has diversified production to include plastic hoops, packaging films, machinery and other. It is Greece’s most internationally oriented firm, controlling 20 companies in 35 countries and with more than 97 percent of its sales occurring outside Greece. Among the clients with which it has recently signed multi-year contracts are: Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, the Agfa Group, Smurfit, Arcelor and others. The actual breakdown of the company’s sales is: Western Europe 57 percent; Eastern Europe, 20 percent; United States, 15 percent; Greece, 3 percent; other countries, 5 percent. Ever since it was listed on the ASE, in 1996, OTE has been the market’s capitalization leader. At the end of Thursday’s session, capitalization was 6.351 billion euros. However, the company is facing difficulties with its Balkan investments, especially in Romania. A change of government could well result in a change of management, even though the State currently holds just over a third of the shares. The placement of a significant chunk of National Bank shares with domestic and foreign institutional investors has improved the stock’s spread and consolidated the bank in second place among the large-capitalization firms, way ahead of third-place EFG Eurobank. The next venture will be the bank’s expansion into Russia. EFG Eurobank did not appear to be adversely affected by the withdrawal of Deutsche Bank, which had a 9.01 percent stake. Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling company, the biggest industrial firm on the ASE, plans to expand further into neighboring countries, especially in the bottled-water market. It is, by sales volume, Coca-Cola’s third largest bottler worldwide.