No resistance to buyouts

The acquisition of a 31.55 percent stake in Marfin bank by Dubai Financial, which was announced on Friday, provides yet another indication of the speed at which business developments are taking place. To be sure, these developments have been foreseen for some time but they are now taking their course. One can reasonably suppose that the foreign investors have not come to restrict themselves just to the specific stake they have acquired in Marfin. All indications are they have taken up positions in view of perhaps more significant developments in the banking sector, and not just in Greece. The latest news has been preceded by the entry of foreign groups in Greece’s retail sector, in services and, of course, in the Athens Stock Exchange. The Greek listed heavyweights belong to foreign institutional investors by at least one third. The government is evidently happy to see them come, hoping they will find its proposals for their participation in its privatization program attractive. Most domestic businesspeople are also in a state of expectancy for the moves of foreign groups. Most hope to exit their investments and do not see any other Greek investors being interested. While in many European countries questions are raised as to whether the acquisition of large enterprises should be permitted, among Greek public opinion the atmosphere is different, perhaps because a firm-symbol, or national champion, has not yet been targeted. Indeed, what would be the reaction if an international investment scheme bought out a large enough interest in the National Bank to secure the management? Most likely, we would see a reaction of economic nationalism. The real problem, however, is that there are no domestic business forces capable of resisting the onslaught of large foreign groups. And if there are any capable of it, they are not willing. Besides, the extensive Greek business presence in the rest of the Balkans may limit itself to smaller operations.