The Managing Director at our new Greece operations agrees that, on paper, we must be mad to invest in the country – but opportunities are growing by the Aegean Sea.
Between bailouts, riots, rumours of an EU exit and a new anti-austerity government stirring up emotion, Greece is hardly at the top of investors' minds right now.
Indeed, we've seen a halt in investment over the last few years as the problems really started to grow; investors are not just playing a wait-and-see game, but are putting Greece in the "too much trouble" basket.
Alexis Tsipras leads the new coalition of left and right wing parties that came to power on an anti-austerity ticket as we entered 2015, and his message was loud and clear: Greece wanted a fundamental renegotiation of its economic bailout package, vowing that "the end of humiliation has come".
Needless to say, European media has been full of the results of negotiations in the last month with claims that "the future of the Eurozone" was at stake. Though Pierre Moscovici, the European commissioner for economics and finance, said "We all want a Greece that stays on its feet, creating jobs and growth, reducing inequality, and a Greece that repays its debt," in the end, that meant an agreement to extend the financial bailout by four months. Tsipras called it a "decisive step" to help end austerity and lift the Greek economy from its deep depression.
Thus far, the country has won its breathing room without yet playing its trump card: a threatened exit from the EU. Indeed, Tsipras campaigned on staying in the EU, and it's what most Greeks seem to want. Will he need to reconsider, though? Could an exit be best for the economy? Certainly, while a return to the drachma would be traumatic with an immediate devaluation, a tumble in the value of savings and price of imported goods soaring, it would also make exports cheaper and labour costs more competitive. It would also mean Greece regained control of its monetary and fiscal policy for the first time since 2001.
No matter how tempting, I believe a "Grexit" is unlikely. The four month extension will let our new government find its economic feet and adjust programmes accordingly. It's a very uncertain environment, especially as Syriza has never previously been in power. But the opportunities in Greek remain as before: strong tourism and shipping sectors that account for around half of economic output.
Is it really worth it?
TMF Hellas was established because we experienced 100% growth in demand for work every year for year for the last four years. The RFPs continued to roll in, mainly around tax compliance – which is unsurprising when an economy is in such an uncertain state – but it shows that business continues as usual in Greece. In fact, despite a reputation in some parts, Greeks are the hardest workers in the EU!
Greece's location will always make it a good entry point to Europe from Asia and Africa. The tourism sector will always remain strong as long as the islands remain popular. As for logistics? Look at it this way: the Chinese shipping firm COSCO selected the Port of Piraeus to give it access to the markets of the Mediterranean and the EU. Even IKEA has expressed interest in creating a logistics hub in Piraeus. Demand is such that the port is embarking on a major overhaul of its entire port infrastructure and surrounding areas – and that's not the actions of an economy in decline.
We set up in Greece because we saw the opportunity, and so will other investors. Our job is, as always, to keep compliance at top of mind, and even if the laws change daily as Syriza finds its feet and the EU relationship remains strained, we will continue to keep compliance at top of mind. And we will continue to shout about the opportunities this fair nation can offer.
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