ECONOMY

Greek enterprises expand their activities in other countries

Greek businessmen may be reluctant to invest in their own country but apparently not abroad, where investments by Greek businesses have been growing at an annual rate close to 50 percent in recent years. Specifically, Greek enterprises’ direct investment abroad reached almost -11 billion in 2005, while portfolio investments (stocks and bonds) were worth about $70 billion. Last year, direct investment is estimated to have exceeded -15 billion, an indication of a strengthened presence abroad and an increased international outlook, at least by a select minority of enterprises. Managers contacted by Kathimerini estimate that repatriated profits reached -2 billion last year, about 1 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product (GDP), boosting GDP growth by 0.1 to 0.2 percentage points. What is surprising is the wide geographic spread of these investments. The bulk of Greek business abroad is, as expected, in other Balkan countries, Cyprus and Turkey. However, it reaches well beyond that. Recent data by the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) show that 6 percent of enterprises active in Turkey and in the US state of Alaska are subsidiaries of Greek enterprises; 2 percent of enterprises in South America, South Africa and Asia are Greek-owned. According to Bank of Greece data, the investments made by these enterprises (over -14 billion) have created 65,000 jobs outside Greece. Data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show that Greeks have invested at least $500,000 in portfolio investments in 66 countries, ranging from the United States to Kazakhstan. The biggest markets in which Greeks have acquired stocks and bonds are the United Kingdom ($17.5 billion), Luxembourg ($5.8 billion), the US ($5 billion), France ($3.6 billion), the Cayman Islands ($2.8 billion), Austria ($1.6 billion), Italy ($1.4 billion) and Ireland ($1 billion). Greek portfolio investments, at about $70 billion, account for 0.27 percent of the total global investment in markets other than the investors’ domestic ones. Of this, $62 billion (0.4 percent of the global total) are in bonds and only $8 billion (0.08 percent) are in stocks. Although Greek investors prefer UK bonds, their portfolio is quite diversified. By contrast, shareholdings are more concentrated, with $2.4 billion invested in Luxembourg, $2.1 billion in the US and $1 billion in the UK. Smaller amounts are spread among another 30 countries, including Turkey ($70 million), Egypt ($65 million) and Albania ($18 million). This year, Greek direct investment is expected to double, given the fact that National Bank and EFG Eurobank alone have invested $3 billion in Turkish banks. Greek investment abroad took off after the year 2000, as banks and other enterprises chose to expand their activities, mainly into other Balkan countries, but also elsewhere.