Business

Greece seeks to woo US investors

Christos Stakouras
Image caption Mr Stakouras says Greece has delivered results

Greece has launched a charm offensive on investors in New York, as the country's alternate finance minister, Christos Stakouras, declared "the worst is behind us".

He said the government had worked to make fiscal consolidation sustainable.

It has implemented wide-ranging structural reforms and started the required privatisation programme.

Greece must raise 9.5bn euros ($12.5bn; £8bn) from asset sales by 2016 under an international bailout plan.

The first big privatisation was announced last month when investment fund Emma Delta bought 33% of gambling monopoly Opap.

Although the final sum paid was not revealed, it was above Emma Delta's initial bid of 622m euros, which had been rejected for being too low.

'Opportunity'

Kicking off the two-day Greek Investment Forum at Manhattan's Plaza Hotel, Mr Stakouras said: "The worst is behind us and we have weathered it."

Representatives from some 25 listed companies, including the country's largest banks, energy companies and real estate firms, as well as Greek officials are trying to persuade investors that now is the right time to put money into Greece.

The level of interest, compared with the last event held in New York in October last year, has doubled with more than 400 potential investors registered.

Yanos Gramatidis, president of the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, told the BBC that investors "understand that now a Grexit (Greek exit from the eurozone) is not an option, this is the time to grab an opportunity as if we were an emerging country".

He added that particular interest had been shown in the areas of infrastructure, waste management and energy.

Enhanced credibility

Mr Stakouras told the BBC: "This year is about stabilisation, next year recovery and onwards sustainable growth."

Image caption Andreas Taprantzis says Greece's privatisation programme is on track

Though Greece became the poster child for the eurozone debt crisis after receiving two international bailouts, Mr Stakouras pointed to the progress the country had made in the last year.

This included lowering its borrowing costs, achieving its fiscal borrowing targets for 2013 and the fact that it expects a structural budget surplus of 2% this year, compared with a deficit of 14.8% in 2009.

He said the country had enhanced its credibility abroad by delivering results, but added that it still had to work to bring down its unemployment rate, currently at 27%.

"We have to stabilise the situation. So, the priority at the moment is to stop increasing unemployment."

Returns on investment

Foreign investment will help bolster the economy and Andreas Taprantzis, executive director of the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, which is responsible for managing Greece's privatisation programme, said the programme was going well.

"We have already had some tenders on airports where 11 international investors expressed interest," he said.

"We have already met 60% of the [programme's] target for this year."

He went on: "The investment community realises if they want to seek good returns, they need to be more resourceful in where they invest their money and that's why they invest in Greece."

Indeed, according to the Economist magazine, Greek government bonds were the top performing asset in the world in 2012.

Odisseas Athanassiou, chief executive of Lamda Development, said he was cautiously optimistic for the country's economic recovery.

"We see a big change in sentiment since November last year... The desire [from investors] is there.

"US investors usually lead the [way] and are an important part of any recovery."

He added that he was impressed by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras since he took office last year. "I see determination from the prime minister like I have not seen in the last 30 years," he said.

Meanwhile, the IMF on Wednesday admitted to errors in its handling of Greece's first bailout, saying it was too optimistic in its growth assumptions and that a debt restructuring should have been considered earlier.

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