Mon, Mar 04, 2013 - Page 15 News List

Russell Investments drops rating Greek on economy


Russell Investments, which advises funds with US$2.4 trillion in assets, will reclassify Greece to an emerging from a developed market, an unprecedented step taken after a recession reduced the nation’s economy by 20 percent.

Greece, which was raised to developed market status by the adviser in 2001, has failed one or both of Russell Indexes’ economic and operational risk assessments each year since 2011, according to a note on the company’s Web site. The relegation will force managers to buy and sell shares to align holdings with their funds’ criteria.

“Since the country began revealing unsustainable levels of public debt in 2009, it has been in an unfortunate economic tailspin that at times has threatened to pull apart the entire European Monetary Union,” Russell’s senior research analyst Mat Lystra said in a statement.

While bailouts by Europe have eased its debt burden, “more than loan repayments will follow the diffusing of the crisis, since any opportunities in the Greek economy have become inherently riskier exposures for global investors,” the firm said.

Greece is the first country Russell has cut to emerging from developed market status, said Michael Gelormino, a company spokesman in New York.

Reclassifications are rare and require three years of “sustained changes in economic criteria,” Russell said in the statement.

Bank of Greece Governor George Provopoulos said on Monday last week that unemployment will increase this year after averaging 24.5 percent last year.

While the country’s benchmark ASE Index of equities has doubled since reaching a three-decade low in June last year, it remains down 81 percent since October 2007.

“Any index provider’s downgrading of a market’s categorization is a consequential decision and Russell does not take this action lightly,” the Seattle, US-based company said.

“Although the size of the Greek market has declined significantly in the past three years, there are still costs associated with this change for indexers of developed and emerging markets. Additionally, a negative stigma may attach to any developed market that loses its advanced designation,” it added.

In determining whether to reclassify a market, Russell assesses how it compares with other countries in terms of per-capita income, total market capitalization, the size of its individual companies and the level of trading volume, among other things.

The combined value of Greek stocks is about US$48 billion, about the same as Pakistan and less than Mexico, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The total will probably fall below Vietnam’s US$41 billion in capitalization after the removal of Coca-Cola HBC, data shows.

Greece has received two bailouts from the euro area and IMF worth 240 billion euros (US$313 billion) and conducted the world’s biggest sovereign debt restructuring since it triggered the region’s debt crisis in 2009.

The nation is gradually exiting from its crisis, with confidence building and deposits returning, even as it faces another difficult year, Provopoulos said on Monday last week in a speech at the central bank’s annual shareholders’ meeting. The country’s economy, which entered a recession in 2008, will continue to contract this year, before beginning its recovery next year, he said.

Russell’s country classifications are announced each year in March and any changes become effective at the conclusion of its index reconstitution process in late June.

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