Few Greeks save much, even fewer make risky investments, study finds

Fewer than one in eight Greeks have saved 50,000 euros or more, as only 12 percent of people in Greece answered that they have this kind of money, compared to an average 15 percent in the rest of Western Europe, according to the Investment Barometer survey for the fall of 2004. The survey is conducted every six months by Gfk Custom Research (with Greek data provided by Gfk Market Analysis) in association with The Wall Street Journal, reporting on the financial status of private investors in Europe and the USA. The Greek percentage remained the same as in the spring of 2004. The top savers in Europe remain the Swiss, 38 percent of whom have 50,000 euros or more in savings. The Belgians are second with 28 percent, up from 23 percent last spring. Surprisingly low savings figures are found in such wealthy countries as Germany (7 percent) and France (8 percent). On the other side of the Atlantic, the Americans confirm they are among the richest people in the world with 50 percent of them claiming their personal capital exceeds $50,000 (38,000 euros). One in seven (14 percent) even responded that their capital has increased compared to six months earlier, unlike in Western Europe, where the average of those with 50,000 euros or more in capital has slid from 18 percent in the spring to 15 percent last fall. So where does this capital go? Excluding the property market, which falls outside the scope of the survey, the majority of European investors follows a conservative approach as 52 percent of them choose savings accounts. In the USA, however, more than 60 percent place their money in equity funds and stocks. The picture in Europe is diametrically opposite to that in the USA. In addition to savings accounts, 39 percent of Europeans invest in life insurance and pension schemes, the second most popular choice. Still, both savings accounts and insurance and pension programs have declined by 7 and 6 percent respectively compared with six months earlier. Those not investing at all rose by 6 percent. In Greece, 26 percent of those who have more than 50,000 euros at their disposal do not invest anywhere, a trend that has increased since the previous survey, but remains considerably lower than the figure recorded in the spring of 2003, when 48 percent had responded that they avoided all investment products. The majority of Greek savers (62 percent) place their money in bank accounts. Overall, apart from a small rise in pension schemes (from 9 to 11 percent), all partial investment forms show a decline. Indicative of the definitive wariness of the Greek stock market is that only 9 percent have a stock portfolio, down from 15 percent in the spring of 2003. Investment preferences also vary according to age: The older people get, the lower the propensity for risky investments (stocks, mutual funds, etc.). This trend is more obvious in Greece, where a mere 9 percent in the 30-49 age group appears willing to invest in high risk products; in the over-50 age group, the number of investors willing to take at least a moderate risk drops to 7 percent. Still, it is true that stocks and related products have lost a large part of their attractiveness across Europe. When the Gfk survey began, in spring 2002, 31 percent of people questioned invested in shares and mutual funds. By fall 2004, this had dropped to 18 percent and seems likely to fall further.