Which way the future of Greece goes is still up in the air. If you read enough of the financial and political news coming out of and about the European Union and the nations making up the PIIGS, you probably will be more confused than informed. There seem to be just as many reports that Greece is setting itself up for a long-term turnaround as there are reports that Greece will need yet another round of financial aid. If investors and everyday, non-financial readers want a proxy, there may be no better benchmark than the American Depository Shares (ADRs) of the National Bank of Greece S.A. (NBG).
This bank's ADRs trade routinely around the headlines wars over "good Greece" and "bad Greece" when there is news. NBG shares were looking good as a proxy early in the week, but by Wednesday that sentiment had shifted for the worse. In fact, NBG shares in New York trading were challenging the lows of Monday with a low of $4.11 on Wednesday.
So here is where things get complicated. Europe's economy is slowly on the mend. Is it permanently on the med or just a temporary reprieve from the pain? Time will tell, but here is how things have gone since the start of June after the devastating capital infusion and reverse stock split cut these ADRs down on a relative basis from $12.20 in today's share price terms to $7.00 almost overnight. It took only three post-split days for NBG shares in New York to break under $6.00. By the end of June, the ADRs were trading under $4.00, only to break under $3.00 by early July.
The thing that is hard to measure is whether a recovery is happening longer-term, even if Wednesday's 4% retreat to $4.15 feels painful. After all, shares rose 13% from Friday's closing bell to the high points on Tuesday.
Wednesday's move lower in the ADRs of NBG is much worse than the Athens Stock Exchange, as it closed down about 0.4%. Pensions are claiming that another round of cuts looks unavoidable. The head of Belgium's national bank under the European Central Bank said that Greece may need help as much as twice more in order to stabilize it. Now we have seen that the number of bidders in the privatization of Greece's airport system has dropped.
Perhaps another proxy for measuring the daily news sentiment is the Global X FTSE Greece 20 ETF (GREK). This ETF tracks the FTSE/Athex 20 Capped Index, but its average volume is low at close to 75,000 shares. This ETF also only has about $63 million in assets under management, even though its total operating expenses paid by holders is very reasonable for a foreign stock exchange ETF at 0.65%. Even though the Athens market closed down, this ETF is up 0.4% at $18.52, against a 52-week range of $14.11 to $22.63.
If you use NBG as a proxy, you are really considering a financial system proxy for Greece. The Greek ETF is a better proxy, but it will be difficult for investors to rapidly enter or exit this ETF in any significant size because an extremely active day is when the ETF trades 200,000 shares. In today's terms, that comes to a grand total of $3.7 million, and any investor has to know that much of that volume is from traders making quick long and short bets rather than taking long-term positions.
The good news is that even if Greece needs another round of "assistance," it just does not seem as though it is anywhere close to the woes of before. The bad news is that any loss of a majority in its parliament can bring a no-confidence vote, and that can put back in control the politicians with threats of a euro exit or an end to the painful austerity measures under which its population has suffered.