ECONOMY

Greek bankers worry about the reaction of US markets today

Greek bankers are worried after the terrorist attacks at the heart of the United States last Tuesday. They agree that the world is experiencing a new and unique situation and that the event itself, while hard to grasp in its magnitude, will have unforeseen consequences. The world will no longer be the same, but we cannot forecast what it will become. Everything will change, from the markets, which have been hit by a severe shock to things that affect our everyday lives, such as vacations, even our daily trips to work. The globe’s strongest economy is facing an imminent recession, the international political scene is more unstable than ever and much will depend on whether the Americans will retain their sangfroid or not. Like all citizens, bankers show their human side in reacting to the events. They probably feel more vulnerable than others, since the strike at the heart of global economy directly concerns them. Theodoros Karatzas – National Bank On the human side, this is a tragedy of great significance; we are talking about thousands of victims and the pain of an equal number of families, says National Bank of Greece chairman Theodoros Karatzas. He is especially emotional, thinking how lucky the National Bank family was amid the tragedy. Just two months before the tragedy, the headquarters of National Bank’s US subsidiary, Atlantic Bank, were at one of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. Karatzas believed that the biggest repercussions will be political and will also affect security matters. No one can really make a prediction about how things will actually evolve, he says. After the shock, which is still huge, and after we are no longer bombarded by images that resemble movie special effects, life will return to normal. It will take some time but it will happen. The numbness we all feel will eventually be overcome, provided we act responsibly and with a clear head, he adds. Concerning the economy, he believes that the effects could be limited to the short term if the political landscape does not change dramatically. The moves to provide markets with liquidity are important and will assist the markets which must respond in a mature fashion. The maturity of a market, Karatzas says, depends on how its players react. Yiannis Costopoulos – Alpha Bank The world will never be the same again, Alpha Bank chairman Yiannis Costopoulos believes. Not even Steven Spielberg would think of putting something so outrageous in a movie, he says. It is the turning of a new page following the terrorist attack and the new era is fraught with danger. However, the greatest danger could lie in how the Americans react. Their reaction could be understandably severe, provided it is not unfair and provokes another round of terrorist attacks. It is certain that everything will change and this will translate into higher costs in many ways. However, not all economic repercussions will be negative. It is important that the markets be provided with liquidity, as is the $40 billion package in emergency aid the US Congress voted. In other words, money is being poured into the economy and that is a good thing. It is also important that the European markets showed maturity. As for the immediate and most painful effects, these will mostly hurt sectors such as tourism and hotels, aerospace companies and, certainly, airlines. Travel will be reduced and the cost will increase. Nikos Nanopoulos – Eurobank Everyone is very nervous about today’s trading in New York, says EFG Eurobank Ergasias chief executive Nikos Nanopoulos. Things, however, are far more complex and the issue is how the US government will handle this, whether there will be reprisals and whether the targets will be individuals or states. So, one serious issue is the US response and the political and military developments that will follow. Another issue, says Nanopoulos, concerns the mood of the American consumer. After the Gulf War, there had been 3-6 months of reduced consumer spending. Such a development will surely lead the US economy into a recession and that will have an impact on other countries. Nanopoulos is not concerned about oil. He considers that Arabic and other oil-producing states will work to keep oil prices as steady as possible. A fourth, important, element was the stance of central banks, which poured liquidity into the economy. Nanopoulos believes that interest rates will fall by half a percentage point, and this will boost markets in the medium term. In the short run, we will face difficulties, says Nanopoulos who spent several years in the USA. However, he says, let us not forget that the Gulf crisis in 1990-91 was followed by 10 years of prosperity. Yiannis Stournaras – Commercial Bank Everything will depend on how Americans react, says recently appointed Commercial Bank chairman Yiannis Stournaras. Europe has kept its cool but fears Wall Street’s reaction today. We are going through a phase where no one can predict anything. The issue is to face the crisis with levelheadedness. If panic prevails, it is possible that everyone will be barricaded into their own local markets and this will take the economy backward for years, Stournaras says. The role of the central banks will be very important and the provision of liquidity helps to restore money into the chain of supply.