This may come as a surprise, but Greece really is a good place to invest. Over the years – and even including the crisis – the American, European and Asian firms that dared to venture into the Greek market, on balance did well.
Not all prospered and some failed. Greece is still not the easiest place to invest. But overall there are countless success stories including a Chinese shipping giant, a German retailer, a telecom world leader, a multinational construction company.
And many have been good for Greece, sometimes in unexpected ways. The concession to build and operate the Athens International Airport, awarded to German construction giant Hochtief more than 20 years ago, helped pioneer Greek legislation on public-private partnerships.
It also created thousands of jobs, helped increase tourism flows to the country, boosted government coffers with concession fees and taxes, all the while earning a profit for its shareholders. Another German airport operator, Fraport, is now making the same bet on Greece by investing more than a billion euros in the 14 regional airports it currently runs.
Telecommunications leader Deutsche Telekom also made a bet on Greece when it paid top dollar for a stake in OTE before the crisis and has been raising its share in the company ever since. It has proven to be a very good investment over the years and, reportedly, offset a disastrous earnings cycle for Deutsche Telekom in the U.S. – it is no exaggeration to say that OTE helped save the German giant.
Another German company, supermarket chain Lidl, is now celebrating its 20th year of operations in Greece. Since its launch in 1999, the company has invested €1.3 billion in Greece and has hired more than 5,000 employees. It’s planning to invest another €120 million over the next year and hire roughly another 500 staff by then.
Α major foreign investment success story is Chinese shipping company Cosco, which paid a small fortune in 2009 for part of the Piraeus container operations. Ten years later, it has taken control of the rest of the port, is planning to invest more than a billion euros and has hired more than 1,000 employees (so far). In the process, it has transformed Piraeus from a backwater to one of the top ten container ports in Europe.
To be sure, there have been unhappy stories too, due to the depth and intensity of the crisis, like the decisions by Credit Agricole and Carrefour to exit Greece during the height of the crisis. Several other, smaller foreign banks also sold their few assets and packed up shop.
But the foreign multinationals which stayed the course mostly saw an opportunity. According to a Metron Analysis survey conducted for the 1st InvestGR Forum 2018: Foreign Investments in Greece (www.investgr.eu) last July, almost nine out of 10 multinationals already operating in Greece invested even more in the country in the last five or more years. That made them just about the only companies investing in Greece during the crisis. During the same period, domestic private investment collapsed: from a level equal to 18% of GDP before the crisis to less than one-tenth now.
If there is a lesson to be learned it’s this: Greece can be an attractive place to invest, both to the benefit of the investor and to the benefit of the country. More needs to be done to attract overseas investors, but the foreign investors who have toughed it out have mostly been rewarded for their efforts and, most importantly, they appear today cultivating expectations for the near future.