ECONOMY

Blue chips propel ASE to record capitalization level

The total capitalization of the 357 shares listed on the Athens Stock Exchange (ASE) is now at an historic high of more than -170 million, despite the fact that the general index is still some 1,800 points lower than its record level of September 1999. This capitalization is largely accounted for, attributed to the listings since then of gaming monopoly OPAP, cellular phone operator Cosmote, Hellenic Exchanges (ASE’s parent company), ATEbank and Postal Savings Bank, which have a high stock market value. But it also reflects a turn of investors toward qualitative blue chips and the fact that the market is now dominated by professionals, mainly foreign. According to data by stockbrokerage firm Pentedekas, in September 1999, with the ASE general index at 6,400 points, there were 54 listed companies with a capitalization of more than -1 billion, against only 28 today. Indeed, the latter include several new listings, while some are the product of mergers. We also note that some blue chips have a capitalization considerably higher than seven years ago, such as banks National, Piraeus and Eurobank. On the other hand, there are once-large companies such as textile firm Klonatex and Naoussa Spinning Mills – which though still listed have a capitalization that is a far cry from that of 1999. Meanwhile others, such as IT firm Pouliades, have gone bankrupt and been delisted. Analysts estimate that about 15 percent of ASE-listed companies now have capitalizations higher than in September 1999 or at least equal to the level of when they were subsequently listed. Foreign investors are playing a leading role in the present picture of the ASE, owning shares worth about -80 billion, of which -60 billion is accounted for by blue chips. Even though official data do not exist for 1999, it is estimated that the holdings of foreign investors in Greek stocks today amount to another record, as a large number of listed firms was then controlled by Greek private investors. This fact is seen as a bulwark against a repeat of the sharp decline after the 1999 peak if a correction is initiated in foreign markets.