A firm debut of Bank of Cyprus (BoC) shares on a lackluster Athens Stock Exchange Wednesday helped pull the Nicosia bourse out of the doldrums, if only marginally.
The island's biggest listed company became the first Cypriot firm to list overseas and the first foreign stock traded on the ASE when it opened above its issue price in Greece.
"We didn't expect anything less today, but what is significant is that our share is quoted on two markets for the first time," said BoC group chairman Solon Triantafyllides.
"I can't say what's going to happen tomorrow, but the long-term future of the bank can only be very successful," he added.
Although BoC entered a retreating Athens bourse, the share resisted pressure on its 3,100 drachma issue price to open at 3,150 drachmas, its intraday high.
As Greek bank stock fell 2.2 percent, BoC registered minor gains to close at 3,120 drachmas.
"BoC's performance in Greece can be seen as a victory for the bank, which entered hostile territory and (faced) investors who thought the share was too expensive," said one Nicosia-based analyst.
Pessimistic Cypriot investors expected the bank to fare much worse, and surprise over its bullish start saw the CSE end the 90 minute session 0.49 percent up on Tuesday's all-share index year-low of 289.65 points.
There were initial intraday gains of 1.3 percent on the flagging Nicosia bourse, where traded volume was 17.28 million Cypriot pounds.
BoC's CSE price closed unchanged at 5.33 pounds, way off the 52-week high of 12.50 pounds.
The blue chip stock has suffered from investor uncertainty over the drawn-out Athens listing, where BoC shares were offered at a discount during the secondary issue in October.
A successful showing in Greece was seen as crucial by analysts to restore confidence on the Cyprus Stock Exchange, at the tail end of a 10-month downward spiral that has shaved 65 percent off share values.
The pioneering Greek IPO collected applications for 41.1 million shares, around five percent over the 39 million shares (12 percent of the bank's total share capital) made available.
Mainly overseas Cypriot institutional investors snapped up the issue, which failed to woo heavyweight Greek punters.
"As an unknown quantity in Greece it was difficult to persuade investors to invest in a foreign company, but those who did buy will not regret it," said Triantafyllides.
The secondary issue raised more than 200 million pounds ($300 million) for overseas expansion plans especially in Greece.
BoC controls a 2.5 percent share of the Greek market, which it hopes to double by 2005 with an acquisition or two.
Five percent of the Greek market represents almost the entire Cypriot market, of which BoC has a 42 percent slice.
The bank also has branches where there are large Greek Cypriot communities such as Australia, Britain and Greece.
Earlier this year it made its first bank acquisition in 100 years when it acquired New York's Interbank for $47 million.— (AFP)
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)