ECONOMY

In Brief

Turkish investment bank sets up shop in Athens Turkish investment bank User Corporation has opened an office in Athens, eyeing business opportunities arising between the two neighboring countries. «Greece, apart from being our closest neighbor, is far more than a market of 10 million people. It actually consists of Turkey’s business gate to a market of 470 million people,» Erol User, president and chief executive officer of the Istanbul-based bank, said in a statement. In June, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed 21 agreements with Prime Minister George Papandreou on matters ranging from immigration to energy and tourism on a visit aimed at boosting commercial interests between the two nations. According to industry sources, talks have picked up between the two sides on possible deals in banking, energy, tourism, infrastructure and real estate. AIG trims exposure to Greek sovereign debt American International Group Inc (AIG), the bailed-out insurer, reduced its exposure to the sovereign debt of six nations, including Greece, by more than two-thirds with the divestment of non-US life units. AIG has about $927 million in exposure to Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Hungary and got rid of its Greece holdings with the sale this week of the American Life Insurance Co (Alico) unit, New York-based American International Group said yesterday in a regulatory filing. Exposure to the six nations was about $3.1 billion as of September 30, before the sale of Alico to MetLife Inc and the public offering of AIA Group Ltd, according to the filing. (Bloomberg) OPAP strike OPAP SA’s agents staged a 24-hour strike yesterday to protest at Greek taxation policies. The action closed all outlets of Europe’s largest listed gambling company across Greece as «unity is the only way to success,» agents union president Kyriakos Toptsidis said in a letter published on its website. The government must ensure OPAP’s monopoly on sports betting is enforced in Greece and shut down competition from illegal Internet betting, Toptsidis wrote in a separate letter. The company must also insure all agencies, he said. The agents have an agreement with OPAP, which holds a monopoly on Greek sports betting until 2020, to exclusively run its store network in Greece and Cyprus. «The impact of a one-day strike should be limited,» HSBC Pantelakis Securities wrote in an e-mailed note yesterday. «In the past, strike action by agents has in general proved short lived and with a low participation rate.» OPAP lost about 25 million euros ($35.5 million) in revenues from an earlier two-day strike by agents called to oppose a planned government tax on games of chance, Christos Hadjiemmanuil, OPAP’s former chairman and chief executive officer, said. (Bloomberg) Tighter control The European Commission called yesterday for tighter control of credit ratings agencies that have been criticized for their role in the debt crisis that rocked the euro. Credit ratings agencies monitor the creditworthiness of governments, local authorities and companies, and their reports are vital documents for investors to judge risk. Greece, Portugal and Spain were hit by severe negative credit downgrades this year owing to their high public deficits and debts. Ireland has also been the object of concern. These judgments sharply increased the interest rates demanded by investors to lend money to the governments concerned, highlighting the strong influence of the agencies. The EU’s executive arm wants to improve the transparency of agencies, prevent conflicts of interest and increase competition in a sector dominated by Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s. (AFP) Cypriot cards Cypriot credit card purchases were up 3 percent in January-October compared with the same period last year, with an 8 percent rise in October alone, clearing agency JCC said yesterday. Payments on credit from January to October totaled 1.54 billion euros, while the number of transactions rose 5 percent, JCC said. (Reuters)