ECONOMY

Ample liquidity fuels the dark side of business

The world of business has never been paradise: Competition has always been ruthless and the pursuit of profit relentless. However, the dark side of business is usually kept meticulously behind the scenes. The fights, the personal feuds and all manner of traps may be a shared secret among businesspeople but rarely do they come out into the open and become the subject of public discussion. This would only happen by mistake or because some disagreement ended up in the courts. The tussle between the two bank groups of Marfin and Piraeus – which burst into the open almost out of the blue last week – seems to be one of these rare cases. It may just be another result of the incredible amounts of liquidity in the global financial system. Private equity funds, which have amassed huge investment capital, are looking for opportunities anywhere. When they locate a target, they attack with a speed that rarely leaves their prey time to react. The Marfin case looks like such a case. The relatively small amount of capital of 5 billion euros that the group claims to be ready to import is huge by Greek standards. According to banking circles, such a sum can leverage asset values seven to eight times as big, with huge powers of intervention in the market. But because the acquisition targets in Greece are relatively few, their reactions are more intense. If one also takes into account the inexperience of all involved in this affair (which is without precedence in Greek business), the reasons behind all the hype and the rash reactions become clearer. Irrespective of the outcome of the affair, there is a particularly pleasant conclusion to be drawn from the development: The Greek economy remains buoyant, and business interest in partnerships, acquisitions and mergers has been rekindled, while the country has become the target of weighty moves by foreign investors in less than a year after Credit Agricole’s acquisition of Emporiki Bank last year. Such developments are not coincidental. They have resulted from a significant effort to modernize the Greek economy over the last 10 years. However, the most important thing in the economy is not what has been done, but, rather, the expectations. In this light, if the government seeks to maintain high growth rates, it has to intensify its modernization and reform efforts to consolidate Greece’s position in international business developments.