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Boosted by growth in central Europe

Austria's economy is in better shape than those of most of the states to its west and its companies already have a solid presence in the new EU states in central and eastern Europe. Now it is reforming its financial markets and encouraging foreign investors in order to take advantage of further gains. Ben Aris reports.

The government has introduced legislation that supports the deveopment of Austria's stock market.

AUSTRIA'S STOCK MARKET was a sleepy backwater for most of the past decade but sprang to life last summer. The ATX index has doubled over the past 18 months, making Austria the best-performing market in western Europe. As the Wiener Börse breaks all-time highs on nearly a monthly basis, investors are streaming into Vienna. Austria has arguably become the first western European country to benefit directly from the enlargement of the European Union in May 2004. At the end of November the ATX index broke through the psychologically important 2,000 mark for the first time after spending most of the past 10 years hovering around 1,000. Austria shares more borders with the central European countries than any other EU country and investors have latched on to Austrian industry as an obvious eastern Europe play but one that backs tried and tested western European names.

Untroubled by the bubble

"There was a boom in the 1980s and then the Austrian market went to sleep for the next decade," says Harald Riedler, head of custody at Raiffeisen, one of Austria's three biggest banks.

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