ECONOMY

The split market of 2004 calls for more domestic private capital this year

The Greek stock market had its bright and its dark days in 2004. On the bright side, the general index of the Athens Stock Exchange showed impressive yearly gains of 23.09 percent, but on the dark one, the vast majority of stocks recorded considerable losses. Hundreds of stocks took some battering, as 287 out of a total of 373 closed the year with losses, with 126 of them incurring losses of over 40 percent. For the well-being of the general index only blue chips are responsible. Although the index once more approached the 2,800-point level, the highest in the last three years, only 82 stocks registered gains. No more than 21 stocks had gains above that of the general index. The big names of the market determined its development, especially banks, whose index led the advance, gaining 44.32 percent year-on-year. The FTSE/ASE-20 blue chip index also rose steeply, gaining 32.27 percent, as did oil refineries (23.29 percent), telecoms (23.27 percent) and non-metallic minerals (21.70 percent). On the contrary, textiles had a tragic year, losing 50.95 percent, followed by construction, which lost 30.38 percent. Also going against the general index’s trend were food and beverages (-13.08 percent), IT equipment (-15.99 percent), insurance (-16.70 percent), publishing and printing (-19.09 percent) and others. Analysts suggest that this split in Greek stock performance in 2004 reflects the great financial problems that listed companies are facing. Some actually are still fighting the specter of bankruptcy, paying for the excesses of 1999. Market observers more or less agree that the market marginalization of large and strong industries on the one hand and the absolute domination of banking stocks on the other have produced an imbalance. Therefore, the biggest challenge of 2005 is to wake the forces of domestic investment. The great return of small private investors could make the difference and feed the distribution of purchasing interest to small- and mid-cap stocks. Small investors however do not seem impressed by blue chip gains and continue to sell. The domestic market rally mostly attracts foreigners expanding their Greek portfolios, and who now control some 28 percent of the big five banks. The reinstatement of market trust could attract new domestic capital, as both the Capital Market Commission and the ASE are increasing efforts toward more effective operation and monitoring of the market.