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The Athens Stock Exchange - Chronicle of a Death Foretold

14 September 2011 / 17:09:02  GRReporter
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The Golden age of the Athens Stock Exchange when it had turnover of over 3,100 bps irrevocably passed, argue Greek financial analysts. Today, its index is around 800 points and the only swallow that did not bring the spring last month, was the day after the merger of Alpha Bank and Eurobank, when the stock hit a 14% increase. It, however, melted the next days as icicles on a sunny day. From the autumn of 2008 until today, the main stock index has tumbled about 73%, which melted almost € 93 billion of the financial market of Greece.

The first serious hit comes, of course, with the last global financial crisis when many foreign investors are worried that the problems will affect the subsidiaries of large banks in southeastern Europe in some way or another. The Athens Stock Exchange experiences its first shock and the basic index is down to 1786 points. At that time, the stock market capitalization is approximately € 117 billion according to Naftemboriki newspaper, which is about 50% of the GDP of Greece. After less than four months, it is down to € 69 billion.

On the "Black Friday" on October 24, 2008, an overall loss of € 3.2 billion is recorded in the region of Eurasia and foreign investors in Greece start selling whatever they can to get rid of unnecessary burdens. The basic index of the Greek stock exchange continues to drop below 1800 points, although the Greek banks report profits in their accounts. The Greek Stock Exchange lost € 24 billion for 24 days in one of the darkest periods in the modern financial history. The decline continues at a slower pace in the first months of 2009.

There comes the time for the word of credit agencies, which after the famous blunder of allowing the collapse of Lehman Brothers, start looking for the weak jacks of the global financial system. The high debt, the budget deficit beyond the European norms and some intuition turn the agencies to Greece. Then comes the first downgrading by S&P to A-with negative outlook. By March 2009, Moody's and Fitch will announce negative trends in the development of the Greek economy, but still refrain from lowering the country's credit rating.

Things are stable to a certain extent, because unlike Western European banks and those overseas, the Greek banking system has not swallowed down the toxic financial securities, which choked the United States in the autumn of 2008. Greek financial experts told GRReporter a year ago that the cause lies not in the foresight of local bankers that the market will eventually explode, but because in the last 10 years Greek banks have spent a lot of money to conquer the Balkans to raise funds to purchase financial instruments with high risk but also with high return.

The Stock Exchange is in perfect bliss for short. Between March and September 2009, the Stock Exchange registers significant growth and the index shoots up to 2800 points from the average 1535 basis points. There is prosperity all around. The then Prime Minister from the right New Democracy Costas Karamanlis announces early parliamentary elections. It seems they are compelling because the debt crisis is already knocking on the door of Greece and the leaders from Brussels not only smack something rotten in the statistics of the Mediterranean country, but also are not likely to tolerate it any longer. Extraordinary measures are necessary but Karamanlis does not feel like taking risks – he prefers to lose the elections than to allow to be remembered by the Greeks as the prime minister, who began cutting costs in the budget.

Election fights are not frightening the Greek Stock Exchange. Everything is going on well. Even winning the elections by the Socialist PASOK is referred to as a positive message in view of the big advantage they have over New Democracy. The single voice of the people in support of the new government of George Papandreou gives further impetus to the stock index and it exceeds 2800 bps. The whole excitement lasts until the first Minister of Finance of Papandreou’s government, George Papaconstantinou announces that the budget deficit is neither 6%, nor 7% but it will exceed 10% of GDP. The President of the Bank of Greece George Provopoulos has warned about this phenomenon, which surprised the Greek politicians, but there was no one to listen to him.

The credit agencies do not hesitate to respond and on October 22, 2009 Fitch downgrades Greece to -A, but after a month and half drags it to BBB +. Standard & Poor's and Moody’s, which are still favourable to Greece for some reason, bring down the rating to A2, warning that if the political governance of the country does not make a sharp turn in the economic policy, a slow death is expecting Greece.

While the Socialists in power are trying to find their way in the situation and decide what should be done and what measures would be appropriate to take to reduce the deficit the time is running away.  The decisions to reduce public sector wages and pensions, and increase the tax burden appear to be the fastest the Papandreou’s government could take. However, the society does not accept them easily. Moreover, this proves insufficient to cover the gap between public revenue and expenditure. Greece falls down from the capital markets and hangs in the hands of Europe and the International Monetary Fund. It receives financial support of € 110 billion in May 2010 and the stock exchange index has already crashed below 1500 bps.

In June 2010, Moody's "rewards" Greece by evaluating it junk, because the investors lose all confidence in the credit profitability of the country. The level of transactions on the Greek stock exchange fall as a consequence of international investors’ perceptions. Nothing is able to cheer up the financial market in Athens, nor even the generally positive results of the stress tests of European banks. The Greek financial institutions pass it, except for the state ATEbank, which resorts to capital raising immediately after the announcement of the results.

From September 2010 to September 2011, the capitalization of the Athens Stock Exchange tumble € 22 billion from € 55.9 billion and now is close to € 33.1 billion. Promises for structural changes and privatization at the beginning of the year cheer up the investors. The Greek state rich in property unused and in one of the most beautiful corners of the old continent is reluctant to accept the proposal of the supervisory Troika of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission. The government agrees to implement medium-term privatization to raise funds and pay part of its obligations under the huge foreign debt. It is expected to raise about € 50 billion for five years and the Athens Stock Exchange will play a crucial role in the procedure. None of the dream comes true.

The privatization program is adopted in the middle of the year with a narrow period, which remained only on paper. Not a public entity is "thrown" to the stock exchange to find its new shareholders and the ship of the Greek economy with the Athens Stock Exchange continues to sink properly.


Tags: EconomyMarketsAthens Stock ExchangeDeclineCrisisFinancial collapse
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