by Nasos Koukakis
November 24, 2015
As if Greece didn't have enough economic market woes, last week foreign investment funds managed to take control of four of the country's largest banks — Alpha Bank, Eurobank, National Bank of Greece and Piraeus Bank — through $6.42 billion worth of capital increases and a complex set of legal manipulations. As a result, bank shares sold like penny stocks, diluting state ownership in these important institutions that have assets totaling $358 billion.
The country's stake in the National Bank of Greece dropped to 24 percent from 57 percent, and in Eurobank it fell to 2.4 percent from 35 percent, while its stake in Alpha Bank was reduced to 11 percent from 64 percent and in Piraeus Bank it dropped to 22 percent from 67 percent. This translates to a loss of almost $44 billion that Greek taxpayers gave to bail out the banks over the past three years.
Greek stock market and legal experts believe that the maneuvers were engineered after a statutory legal provision was amended by the Greek Parliament that allowed private investors to price bank shares using a so-called "book-building method." Under this method, the share price in capital increases is not predetermined, and investors set the price at which they want to buy the shares.
It also made it mandatory for the country's regulatory body, the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund, to accept book-building prices, even if they were not properly reflecting share values.