ECONOMY

How foreign portfolios sold to keep profits

It took only 10 days (May 9-18) to shatter the climate of excessive optimism prevailing on the stockmarket and which depended on the myth that foreign investors would buy almost anything, at any price. Foreign stock exchanges were hurt by the uncertainty prevailing over the future course of the dollar, interest rates, oil and metals prices. The Athens Stock Exchange responded like an emerging market, that is by panicky investors selling at all costs. Foreign institutionals could also use the emerging signs of saturation in housing and consumer credit as an excuse to divest themselves of bank shares. In the space of eight sessions, the ASE went from 4,316.98 points, a 68-month high, to 3,878.80, a 10.15 percent decline. The precipitous drop is further evidence of the fact that foreign portfolios, which account for almost 43 percent of the market’s capitalization, have taken over the market: In the first mini-crisis of the year they sold immediately, trying to preserve their profits. Foreign investors are, as expected, especially active in blue chips and, among these, banks. In general, they prefer ASE-listed firms with a capitalization in excess of 300 million euros. Foreign analysts estimate that, within three years, any Greek listing with a high degree of activity outside Greece and a dynamic management – that is, with growth potential – will become takeover targets, by both Greek and foreign funds. At present, at least 10 of the biggest Greek industries are targeted for takeover by multinationals. In some cases, the courtship is overt. Soon, some of the proposals will begin to be implemented. These takeovers could, under certain conditions, lead to a round of merger and acquisitions that will benefit the economy. Many small and medium-sized Greek enterprises are also actively looking for partnerships that will allow economies of scale and make penetration into other markets easier. There is also plenty of scope for mergers among brokerages. In that sector, however, the prevailing mood seems to be anxiety, fueled by very high operational costs.