Private equity acquisitions are a positive development

The onslaught of globalization is becoming increasingly felt. Although pockets of resistance are visible and continue to be interpreted by some in terms of the past, the trend of developments is clear. The stock market is dominated by orders from hedge funds, the big investment entities that are capable of mobilizing huge amounts of capital in pursuit of the best returns through quick moves. A few years ago, this type of investor used to be derogatorily described as «speculators»; now they have been upgraded to «foreign investors.» The truth is that they, too, aim to gain from the stock market, just like everyone else, and moreover, have obligations to their clients – usually insurance funds – to offer high returns irrespective of the state of the markets. For this reason, they move fast. Now, the second wave has reached Greece, partly via buyouts by private equity firms. The company that acquired Greek hotel and casino group Hyatt Regency earlier this month, and the others that bought mobile operator TIM Hellas and Q-Telecom at the end of last year, belong to this category. They acquire firms in different sectors, streamline them if they have problems, put them on a revamped growth course and then sell them. In some cases, they list them on a stock market, or in others, as with a number of prominent Greek firms in recent years, they delist them. Their field of play is really not the stock market. Their job is to add value to businesses with potential and then sell them to larger concerns. As a rule, private equity firms deal with businesses valued at more than 300 million euros, and as long as these have competitive advantages in their sector. They ignore smaller ones that offer no promise of added value and profitability growth. These firms face no danger from the onslaught of globalization and their Greek ownership is not threatened. No one is going, for instance, to buy the Hellenic Sugar Industry’s plant in Xanthi that really should have closed down, but has not yet done so thanks to the intervention of powerful local political interests. The same goes for hundreds of other companies of both the private and public sectors. Indeed, their real problem is the absence of prospective investors. However, this absence may provide an opportunity for Greek players that might wish to play the rehabilitation game. This role is played to a considerable degree by banks, but their priorities mainly lie in safeguarding depositors’ and shareholders’ capital. Some others are needed to add an entrepreneurial vision, knowledge, commitment and perhaps a little optimism.

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