Mon, Dec 13, 2010 - Page 9 News List

Warsaw makes bid to become Central Europe’s financial hub

As the only country in the EU to escape the ravages of recession during the recent financial crisis, Poland is becoming a magnet for foreign investment

By Jack Ewing  /  NY Times News Service, WARSAW

To be sure, the CEE Stock Exchange Group, an alliance of the exchanges in Vienna, Budapest, Prague and Ljuljana, still has more trading volume collectively than Warsaw.

Beatrix Exinger, a spokeswoman for the Vienna exchange, concedes Warsaw has more initial public offerings but she argues that the Vienna exchange, founded in 1771, is home to more blue-chip companies.

“We have less quantity but more quality,” Exinger said.

While the Warsaw Stock Exchange had more new listings than any other European exchange from July through September, they were mostly small companies listed on the so-called NewConnect platform. The total value of the Warsaw IPOs was 60 million euros (US$79.4 million), according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, compared with a total of 1.7 billion euros for the 20 new listings on the London Stock Exchange.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which promotes development in the former Soviet bloc countries, has expressed concern about the low level of liquidity in the Polish exchange, meaning that it can be difficult to find buyers or sellers for some shares.

Sobolewski agreed that “liquidity is king,” and outlined plans to attract listings from as far south as Bulgaria and Serbia. The exchange can already boast companies like Kernel Holdings, a maker of sunflower oil that is Ukraine’s largest agricultural company. As Sobolewski pointed out, Warsaw still needs more of the professionals that are essential to a vibrant financial center, like auditors, lawyers, bank analysts and financial media.

“It is not ended, by far but the situation is better than a few years ago,” he said.

There is also a risk that the Polish market, as one of the few growth stories in Europe, could become overheated from too much foreign investment. But no one in Warsaw seems to be worried about bubbles.

“It would be desirable to have more companies invested in Poland,” Sobolewski said. “We are still far from the point where it might be dangerous.”

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