OPINION

Anemic market

The decision by Ciments Francais, France’s cement giant, to buy all the shares of Halyps, a small Greek firm whose majority shares are already owned by the former, in order to withdraw its listing from the Athens Stock Exchange may well be connected to the business objectives of the French firm (which is owned by the Italian Italcementi group) rather than to the stagnation of the Athens bourse. Indeed, the French company’s plans may have called for the full absorption of the small subsidiary firm and its merger with the parent company or its listing in a different stock market – a decision that might even have been sound if Sophocleous Street was prospering. But it’s hard to imagine that the French company’s decision had nothing to do with the prolonged period of inertia witnessed by the Athens bourse and its long-term failure to attract ample investment capital. Indeed, even if the French group’s business priorities reduced the significance of Halyps’s listing on Sophocleous Street, the French group would never have withdrawn the company from a robust and profitable stock market. On the contrary, the French firm made an easy decision, given that the Greek bourse is not only going through a prolonged period of impasse but its players have also become disaffected, as the vast majority of investors’ accounts are inactive and there is no sign of a future upswing. Everyone knows how the Athens Stock Exchange arrived at its present state (a state that was aggravated by the unfavorable climate in key foreign markets – but definitely not in response to this). Similarly, everyone knows that the government, responsible authorities, businessmen and investors were largely driven by greed. What is needed is not to analyze the causes of the present stagnation but, rather, to find ways to overcome the current situation so that the bourse can function not as a gambling den but as a genuine source for the accumulation of investment from the real economy, for an increase in growth, and the modernization of production. Bringing discredit onto the stock market means paralyzing a fundamental lever for the accumulation of funds for investment and the negative repercussions that this will incur. The decision by Ciments Francais confirms the anemic state of Sophocleous Street – and this is not irrelevant to the overall drop in foreign investment in Greece after 1996. The country is facing signs of a fall in private investment. It has to react before these signs evolve into unquestionable symptoms.