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A Hong Kong for eastern Europe?

Austrian equity visionaries remain optimistic that Vienna can yet become the market for trading in eastern European stocks. But it's likely to take more than the current reforms to lift a dismal equity performance. John McGrath reports.

The composite route to success?

Ever since the east-west political barriers came crashing down, there has been speculation that Vienna might become a financial centre for the countries of eastern Europe. Austrian finance minister Viktor Klima frequently expresses such a hope. And chancellor (head of government) Franz Vranitzky is on record as saying that one of the greatest opportunities for the Vienna stock exchange is to list eastern European stocks.

Echoing these sentiments, Gerhard Grund, head of investment banking at RZB and board member of Ötob, Austria's futures and options exchange, says: "A visionary might say everyone buys Chinese securities through the Hong Kong stock exchange [and that] Vienna ­ if we handle it the right way ­ could become a kind of Hong Kong for central and eastern Europe."

Although Grund emphasizes that such statements are indeed no more than visionary, it may make strategic sense for Austrian bankers to consider them seriously. Creditanstalt, Bank Austria and RZB are among the most active banks in central and eastern Europe. Creditanstalt, for instance, has investment banking and securities operations in Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Slovenia.

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