NBG union won’t budge

The National Bank of Greece’s employees’ union is insisting that it will use its position as the holder of over 5 percent of the bank’s shares to call for the postponement of today’s general meeting, which is supposed to examine the bank’s acquisition of Turkey’s Finansbank and the capital increase that is needed to carry out the acquisition. In a statement released yesterday, SYETE, the employees’ union, said that the dialogue proposed yesterday by Chairman and CEO Takis Arapoglou was «a smokescreen.» Earlier Arapoglou had tried, and failed, to meet with the board of the employees’ pension fund. SYETE said it would only consider changing its position only after the funds that are NBG shareholders are briefed on three important texts: the agreement to take over Finansbank, NBG’s agreement with the capital increase managers and the agreement with the acquisition consultant. The acquisition of Finansbank, originally hailed by both main political parties, the ruling New Democracy and the opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), has become a political issue as doubts have emerged about the amount NBG will have to pay and because the recent stock market dive has especially affected NBG’s value, shaving more than 20 percent off its capitalization. A call by MPs for government appointee Arapoglou to appear before a parliamentary committee to explain the move was rebuffed by the latter, who claimed the bank was no longer state-controlled and that he would only answer to the shareholders. «There are unanswered questions regarding the final cost of the acquisition and NBG’s business plan,» PASOK MP and former minister Vasso Papandreou told reporters yesterday. She said that her party was not, on principle, opposed to NBG expanding into foreign markets, but added that the bank’s management should not pass into the hands of foreign investors. She remarked that the cost of the Finansbank acquisition exceeds NBG’s equity capital and that the acquisition itself involved several risks. Pension funds are afraid that the bank, which, until recently could be described as state-controlled – only by a virtue of a law that grants the state the statute of pension funds’ «representative» at shareholders’ meetings – will pass into foreign hands. At present, foreign funds hold 38.34 percent of NBG, with private foreign investors holding an additional 0.44 percent. Greek pension funds hold 23.93 percent, private investors 23.24 percent, mutual funds 4.08 percent and the rest is dispersed among various institutions, such as universities, the church and local authorities. Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis, who is in Paris, said yesterday he was certain that «the employees, who always put the bank’s interest first, will show maturity.» Alogoskoufis, who has been said to oppose the participation of pension funds in the capital increase, especially if they will have to borrow to do so, said that «most funds have already overinvested in shares from 1999-2000,» the period of the stock market bubble. «Some funds, however, might be able to invest again.»