ECONOMY

Capital Market Ombudsman set for February

The Capital Market Ombudsman (CMO) and the new timetable of working hours of the Athens Stock Exchange (ASE) will be introduced in February, sources said after a meeting of Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis with officials of the Capital Market Commission on Wednesday. According to a consultative document on CMO, the participants involved in the process of setting the new institution’s powers are the members of the Union of Institutional Investors (except the closed-end investment funds already listed on the bourse), the association of stockbrokerage members of the Exchange (SMEHA) and the members of the Union of Investment Services Companies (EEPEY). The document says that the basic aim of the new institution is the friendly and out-of-court settlement of differences and complaints of private investors against the members of the bodies involved in the process, «in a fair and objective way and through opaque and brief procedures.» Complaints concerning all investment services will be accepted, including those provided by mutual fund companies. The ombudsman’s recommendations will not be binding on the parties, as it will be up to them to accept them, and will be based on the general legal framework and standard business practices in the capital market. CMO’s services will be provided free to private investors. The administration will be comprised of a seven-member board of directors, equally representing the participating agencies. The ombudsman himself/herself will be a person of indisputable authority, fully and exclusively employed in the post for a three-year term and re-electable for one more. Complaints will first have to be lodged with the clients’ service department which all investment agencies are required by law to maintain. These will have to reply in writing to the complainant within 10 days. The trading hours of the Athens bourse will be extended by 75 minutes as of Friday, February 1, meaning trading hours of between 11.00 and 17.15. ASE President Panayiotis Alexakis yesterday met officials of large stockbrokerages for a discussion of market prospects in 2002. Sources said the discussion focused on the need to boost liquidity to bolster in the market, and on attracting new investors. Stockbrokers are reportedly expressing strong concern over viability prospects for their companies because of the serious slump in business for more than two years now. A large number of the 89 operating stockbrokerages are projected to report losses for 2001 and are trimming costs and expenses in order to increase liquidity. It is pointed out that small, «family»-run stockbrokerages fare rather better, as they have small numbers of employees and can more easily limit operating costs. The top-selling brand was General Motors’s Opel, with sales up by 23.5 percent to 29,021. South Korea’s Hyundai continued to draw the crowd with low prices and attractive financing schemes as it racked up 25,841 sales, although these were still down by 8.5 percent.