ECONOMY

Foreign investors abandon Greek blue chip positions

Pressures from abroad have mounted over the last four months on the local stock market’s blue chip FTSE/ATHEX 20 index, the point of reference for foreign investors. Since July 19, when the US subprime mortgage crisis began to spread, the blue chip index has recorded losses of about 7.6 percent, while the index’s gains since January have shrunk to 5.84 percent. Although up to end-October foreign institutionals continued to expand their positions in the index’s stocks, in November there has been a gradual rise in liquidations as each day the extent of the crisis in the US subprime market becomes more apparent. In their effort to secure cash flow against conditions of credit asphyxiation that markets have entered in the last four months, foreign portfolios are liquidating their blue chip positions regardless of stock performance. As a result, Greek stocks with high capitalization have recorded significant losses since July, and particularly from early November. This is because Athens had outperformed among European markets, until recently being one of the three European Union bourses with the greatest gains since the start of the year. The choice by foreigners to liquidate their positions in high-capitalization stocks is not down to a change of tactics toward the Greek market, where they have gradually built their positions over the last three years, but is attributed to tight conditions across international markets. In the last 12 months, foreigners had increased their presence in the blue chip index by 80 percent. While in October 2006 foreigners owned 33 percent of FTSE 20, by end-October 2007 they held 58.73 percent. But in the last 10-12 sessions they have begun to withdraw from the Greek bourse. Since 2003 the market has been led by professional portfolios and particularly foreign institutionals, driving out the thousands of small investors, who at the time were counting the losses to the savings of a lifetime, and even local institutionals. A University of Piraeus survey covering 2003-2006 showed that foreigners influence blue chips while Greek investors have an impact on mid- and small-caps. While Greek investors account for 94 percent of all investors registered in the local market, the total value of their portfolios is less than 50 percent of total capitalization. In September 2003, this stood at 71 percent. Since 2003, Greeks have been net sellers, so foreigners saw their share in the market soar. About 85 percent of acquisitions by foreign investors were from institutionals, with the rest coming from private investors. Three-fifths of foreign investors came from the European Union and the remaining 40 percent from third countries.