ECONOMY

Large-caps lose, IT sector wins

The Athens Stock Exchange (ASE) composite price index was affected by low buying interest and volume of trading. Hovering below the 2,600-point mark for the last three trading sessions, it closed on Friday at 2,574.68 points, a fall of 71.70 points, or 2.71 percent, from the previous week’s close. Total trading volume reached 472.8 million euros, making an average daily volume of 94.56 million euros. All Financial Times indices registered losses. The blue chip FTSE/ASE-20 index came under the strongest pressure, receding 3.46 percent. The FTSE/ASE-80 of small-caps lost 2.68 percent, closely followed by the mid-cap FTSE/ASE-40 index which lost 2.67 percent. All sectoral indices but one registered losses, with the largest being those of retail commerce (6.80 percent) and banks (5.15 percent). The one exception was information technology which gained 2.19 percent. Of the 363 stocks traded, 288 registered losses, 58 ended with gains and 17 remained unchanged. Of the four stocks which made their debut on the bourse last week: Euroconsultants rose a sharp 150 percent, while Kepenos Mills made a perky 55.76 percent. Promota Hellas rose 16.77 percent, but Arrow Portfolio Investment slid 21.18 percent on its first day of trading on Friday and was also the week’s most heavily traded stock with 9.60 million euros, followed by PPC with 9.46 million and Promota Hellas with 4.32 million euros. All in all, the relatively small market share by foreign and international mutual funds in their respective broad classes is indicative of local retail investors’ unwillingness to sail into unknown waters up to now and partly explains the huge amounts of money parked in repos (repurchase agreements). However, the imposition of a 7-percent tax on interest earned on repos from the beginning of 2002 is likely to make more Greeks rethink their investment strategy, perhaps leading them to put more money in foreign securities. Some market participants believe the process of international portfolio investing in Greece has already started and will pick up steam in the coming months and years to reach, albeit at a slow pace, levels seen in other small European countries such as Portugal. They point out that the current 20-percent withholding tax on capital gains earned by local residents when they invest in units of foreign funds domiciled outside Greece will not be there for long to shield the local industry. Some local brokerages seem to have come to the same conclusion and have rushed to become members of foreign bourses, develop ties with European brokerage associations and upgrade the services on international equity investments offered to their retail and institutional local clients. Faced with a stagnant Athens bourse, characterized by low trading volumes, these firms have marketed aggressively foreign equities to their clients but the degree of response does not seem particularly satisfactory in those cases that we are aware of.