In the past few days, newspapers and their readers were subjected to a barrage of first-half results by companies listed on the Athens Stock Exchange. Many people see this publication as a triumph for transparency. They are being naive. Listed firms are obliged by the exchange to inform their current and potential shareholders in detail of their results at least twice a year. The public is thus well-informed about their performance and is in a position to evaluate their shares’ worth, right? Wrong! Capital market authorities have done very well to impose this procedure. However, this exercise in transparency has become the biggest exercise in deception. With very few exceptions, firms use the publication of their results to mislead. The vast majority of people are unable to draw meaningful conclusions from the results. Why is this? Firms have found ways to emphasize positive news and hide the negative. Almost all listed firms own subsidiaries; some of those are listed, others not. Subsidiaries are very useful for mixing up parent company with group results, so that no investor can assess the effects of the results on his or her shares. Finally, each listed company can point to a positive element in its results and, in the case of no positive news, can find excuses like the international conjuncture of circumstances, the prices of raw materials, etc. This is the sort of information listed companies provide, turning their transparency obligations into a propaganda exercise. Obviously, these tactics cannot fool either market professionals or big investors, both private and institutional. The targets are small investors who are in no position to decipher the results. For the truth’s sake, we really need independent analysts, and not the kind that gloss over results, now more than ever.

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