In two other parts of this series, I have written about the investments by major companies and investors in Ireland and Spain. In this part, I will cover investments made in one of the most damaged Eurozone economies: Greece.
The ultimate contrarian pick
For most of the last several years, Greece has carried nearly every characteristic that makes a country a risky place to invest. Greek sovereign debt was repeatedly downgraded as fears spread of a default, unemployment soared, property values plunged, and banks required billions in capital leading to massive share dilution.
Added to all of this were frequent protests and the possibility that the current party in power may be replaced by one further to the left or right.
Greece's banks have been among the hardest hit banks in the world as they have dealt with a slow economy, rising nonperforming loans, and a collapse in the value of their sovereign debt holdings.
But some major investors have been moving to buy parts of Greece's banks. Paulson & Co. invested in Alpha Bank and Piraeus Bank, and Prem Watsa of Fairfax Financial (TSX:FFH) considered an investment in National Bank of Greece (UNKNOWN:NBG.DL) until NBG was unable to grant Watsa the terms he wanted due to government bailout conditions.
But Fairfax did manage to play a leading role in the consortium that recapitalized Eurobank (NASDAQOTH:EGFEY)earlier this year, thereby putting the bank back in majority private hands thereby making it the first major Greek bank to accomplish this task. Fairfax continues to hold its Eurobank stake and considers it a long-term investment.
Other Greek companies
The downturn has caused major discounts for a lot of Greek companies and Fairfax has been ready to invest in nonbanking areas. The company has taken stakes the Greek real-estate company Eurobank Properties as well as in the Greek industrial company Mytilineos Holdings.
Both investments have enabled Fairfax to diversify away from the banking sector and play a rebound in Greek real estate and the industrial economy in general.
New Greek debt
Greek debt was once considered highly toxic with yields soaring well into the double-digit range, but sentiment has reversed as the nation has stabilized and investors search for yield. Demonstrating the effects of this combination, a recent offering by the Greek government priced its five-year bonds at 4.95%.
To fill this offering, Greece was able to tap the broader bond market, which is hungry for yield considering similar German bonds yield less than 1%. Unlike the previous investments made by select major investors, the sale of these bonds reflects improving Greek sentiment across a larger part of the bond community.
Greece was not a low-risk investment and has yet to become a safe investment today. But investors in search of major returns have been able to find them in their purchases of major Greek banks and other Greek investments.
While the Greek economy still makes its companies above average in risk, those willing to bear this risk have a lot of major investors on their side.