Capital flight fears as local market prepares for MiFID

Three-fifths (60 percent) of the daily turnover conducted today by foreign portfolios on the Athens Exchange is threatening to emigrate to the new platforms (multilateral trading facilities, or MTFs) to be created next Thursday. On November 1, the European Union directive known as MiFID (Markets in Financial Instruments Directive) will apply, effectively introducing a single market and regulatory regime for the investment services of all 27 EU bourses along with those of Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. Although such a dramatic reduction in turnover on the local bourse is widely expected, no one in the Greek market can tell with certainty when that will happen as the Athens Exchange (ATHEX) remains one of the most expensive bourses in the world. This is why more and more voices are calling for Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis to immediately abolish the 0.15 percent tax on sales, which amounts to an annual sum of -160 million in the budget. Hellenic Exchanges SA has also been called upon to cut the liquidation cost, which now comes to 0.6 percent. The flight of foreign capital is a nightmare for the ATHEX as it is well known that one in two shares changing hands belongs to foreign portfolios; those present in the local market do not exceed 300. Issues such as the handling and execution of orders for investments, the supply of information and investment advice and other points touching on everyday investment affairs are at the focus of the EU directive, which at first was greeted with reservations as it is certain its application will entail some difficulties. Crucially, MiFID is a directive of maximum harmonization, which means member states cannot adopt any stricter measures on the issues it regulates. It also includes significant clauses on the protection of investors and the transparency of transactions, which will now harmonize the existing practices on a Pan-European level. For investors, it provides for the classification of customers who use investment services depending on the knowledge and the familiarization they have with investment activity and risk evaluation. This classification is associated with specific obligations for information and monitoring by those who sell investment products and services. The importance of these regulations is obvious in today’s complex and globalized investment environment, where not all investors are equally qualified. The biggest problem will be for stockbrokerage companies which have limited equity capital, as MiFID has the following thresholds: – Minimum equities of -500,000 for stockbrokerages that manage portfolios, receive and execute orders and offer investment advice. – Minimum equities of -1.5 million for the above services plus guarding ATHEX stocks and making ATHEX transactions. – Minimum equities of -6 million for the above services plus bookrunning, special trading and a private account both at the ATHEX and as internalizers.