ECONOMY

Listed firms fared better in ’03

Most listed companies improved their financial results in 2003 as they made an effort to contain spending and reduce their indebtedness. Despite the efforts made, many listed companies ended the year in the red. The law clearly says that the shares of a listed company that sustains losses in three consecutive years shall be placed under supervision. The stock market’s almost continuous decline from September 1999 to March 2003 caused many listed companies to pile up debts, since many of them had invested heavily in the market during 1999-2000, at the time of the feverish rise and the beginning of the decline, when many small-caps were still rising and there was hope for a recovery. On top of their failed investments in stocks, many listed firms were affected by Europe’s economic slowdown, which resulted in lower turnover and an increase in indebtedness. The latter was an indirect result since companies, trying to contain operating costs and to convert short-term debt into long-term, either borrowed – mostly in the form of corporate bonds – or renegotiated their debt. In any case, the majority of listed firms that suffered losses in 2002 managed to return to profitability in 2003 by putting their finances in order. They were helped by the stock market’s recovery – beginning in April 2003 – and increased business, but it was mostly their efforts to clear up their finances that paid dividends. One example of a company that will avoid the dreaded supervision of its shares is publisher Pegasus. According to brokers’ estimates, its 2003 profit will exceed 5 million euros, while in 2001 and 2002 it had posted losses of 4.5 million and 850,000 euros, respectively. Another company returning to profitability is the operator of the stock market itself. The sale of Hellenic Exchanges to private banks has boosted results. Having lost 23.93 million euros in 2002, it is expected to post a 2003 profit approaching 27 million. The biggest wood products company, Shelman, will also show a profit in 2003, instead of the small loss – 220,000 euros – sustained in 2002. The picture is also positive for Nexans (ex-Alcatel), although, in its case, the turnaround will be somewhat difficult. There is, however, considerable speculation about the plans the troubled parent company, France’s Alcatel, with persistent rumors about Nexans’s de-listing from the Athens Stock Exchange. Other companies have failed to achieve a turnaround. One of them is Lymberis Publications, which is expecting not only continued losses but a lower turnover as well. In a letter to the ASE, the company indicated that its year-round loss will be smaller than its nine-month loss of 968,000 euros and attributed that loss to the transfer of company activities to new headquarters. Ethniki Real Estate, a National Bank subsidiary, will certainly not avoid supervision of its shares since its 2003 loss, its third in a row, is estimated at nearly 3 million euros. The information technology sector was one of a few that did not share in the general recovery last year. The survival of several companies hangs in the balance. IT firms have been dealt an additional blow by the delays in implementing the Information Society projects co-funded by the European Union through the Third Community Support Framework program (CSFIII). Among IT firms, Infoquest is expected to announce a loss for 2003, its second straight losing year. In the first half of 2003, its losses were 5.84 million euros. Altec, which, on top of the sector’s crisis, is under investigation by authorities, is expected to announce a 9-million-euro loss for 2003, its third loss in a row. Unibrain is also losing money for the third year in a row, while LogicDis’s losses for 2003 are estimated at 4 million euros, only slightly less than the 4.22 million posted in 2002. Another troubled sector is pisciculture, where firms are also paying for the lack of a clear business strategy. To take just one of the listed firms: Nereus is expected to announce losses of around 2 million euros for 2003, about the same as in 2002 (2.03 million). Corinth Pipeworks is still reeling from the deadly accident in its Corinth factory on April 3, 2003, which killed five workers. It has also become obvious that not enough planning went into investing in another factory and the company is suffering from lower turnover. Its 2003 losses will be about 29 million euros. It is the second straight annual loss. The position of Minoan Lines is weak and the company is making an effort to cut its losses by selling ships it had ordered in an overly optimistic assessment of its future needs in the saturated domestic passenger shipping market.