Shaping up for the single currency
Greek banks will need to consolidate if they are to be competitive in the European single-currency system. Much as their officials dread the prospect, it looks as if the big state-owned banks will also have to privatize to get fighting fit. Privatization in Greece has not been undertaken at break-neck pace, but the second tranche of telecoms company OTE's float will be a big step forward. Philip Eade reports.
Greek banks have been the star performers on the buoyant Athens stock exchange this year, but the surge in share prices masks a shake-out, as competition intensifies in the run-up to European monetary union (Emu).
Of Greece's 42 banks, 20 have a market share of just 1% each. Consolidation is inevitable and several banks are raising money at home and abroad to position themselves for acquisitions. Only around four large banks are expected to live on after 2001 - the provisional date set for Greece's entry into Emu - along with a handful of smaller niche players.
Those that do survive can look forward to operating in what they hope will become the financial centre for the Balkan region. Upbeat proponents of the Greek "gateway" idea say Athens can be to the European Union what Los Angeles is to the US.
Traditionally used to making money in their sleep, Greek bankers are finding life harder as interest rates fall. The spread between lending and deposit rates on drachma loans, which reached 12% during the 1980s, has already fallen to around 4% (2.5%