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Mon, Dec 13, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Eastern European bourses enjoy boom

FOREIGN ATTRACTION The countries' EU accession, the combination of emerging but stable markets and attractive companies are luring investors from abroad

AFP , PRAGUE

Growing interest in shares on the stock exchanges of central and eastern Europe has pushed them to record levels, making them among the best-performing in the world.

The countries' EU accession in May, the combination of emerging but increasingly stable markets as well as attractive companies have lured increasing numbers of investors from abroad.

The Bratislava Stock Exchange is up 77 percent since the start of the year, while both Budapest and Tallinn grew 53 percent.

Prague Stock Exchange meanwhile is up 49 percent, with the PX 50 index last month breaching its base level of 1000 points for the first time in 10 and a half years, the Warsaw Stock Exchange reached a record high of 26,107 points on Dec. 2 and the Tallinn Stock Exchange's TALSE index is at its highest since the market crash of 1997.

"The accession to the European Union put Hungary and other countries in the region in the investor spotlight and this poured fresh capital into the stock market as well. Foreign investors are starting to no longer think in emerging markets but in sectors or even companies," said Kornel Szabo Sarkadi, a securities analyst at Raiffeisen Bank in Budapest.

"But more than EU accession, the outstanding performance of the stock market is due to selective large companies, such as banking firm OTP and oil company Mol, showing huge profits which have caught the imagination of inves-tors," he said.

According to Jan Langmayer, head of trading at Prague brokerage Atlantik, foreign investment funds and particularly those from the US are increasingly interested in Czech stocks.

"Such funds are attracted to central Europe because they see it as higher risk than western Europe and offering higher returns but at the same time the region is regarded as more stable since the countries' EU accession. It's that combination that makes it so attractive -- an emerging market but a much more stable one than before," he said.

"The main lure of the Czech stock market is that all of the traded companies are performing so well and reporting much better results than their western European counterparts," he added.

Warsaw's stock exchange is Europe's third largest for Initial Public Offerings after London and Euronext, says the exchange's spokes-man Dariusz Marszalek.

This year 32 firms will have launched on the market, boosting the total number of listed companies to more than 220.

A large proportion of investment on Prague's Stock Exchange comes from the US and more than half of all investment in Tallinn Stock Exchange is from nearby Sweden.

Prague Stock Exchange's deputy CEO Vladimir Ezr said that another lure for shareholders was the looming privatization of government stakes in major Czech companies such as dominant telecom company Cesky Telecom and power group CEZ.

Libor Vinklat, an analyst at Czech bank Ceska Sporitelna, said that many funds targeting EU companies had automatically extended into the 10 new members .

Giedrius Bacevicius, head of trade and information at Vilnius Stock Exchange, said interest surged ahead of EU accession.

"The rise started at the end of 2003 ... when it became clear that Lithuania will join the EU and NATO. But it continued and today we have the highest ever values of both our indexes," he said.

More than half of all investment into Tallinn-listed companies comes from Sweden, while Estonia makes up 17 percent and the UK 8 percent.

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