By Markos N. Kaminis
The Wall Street Greek Blog
From the very moment Greece was issued aid by its European partners, its harshest critic and most stern policeman has been Germany. The Germans, you see, are budget minded and perennially profitable. Thus, the nation’s austere populace wonders aloud why they should pay for Greek negligence. Greeks on the streets of Athens and Greek-Americans in New York City counter with arguments about the infinite contributions of the Greek culture to society, the foundation upon which modern day Germany stands. Greeks will neither shy from reminding embarrassed Germans about the tonnage of gold and ancient relics stolen away during World War II, not to mention 10% of the Hellenic Republic’s population sacrificed in its impossible defense against the Nazis. That was one of the largest percentage losses by an Ally during the war.
So, in retrospect, perhaps it’s not too much to ask Germany for a little slack today, so that Greece might stand on its feet again. However, after the Greeks voted to endure continued austerity for the sake of remaining in the euro-zone, and to honor their debts to the EU and IMF, German Chancellor Angela Merkel only reiterated a strict stance for hard days for Greece. Others in Italy and Spain, where the taste of Greece’s pain is almost familiar, called for an extension of the time line for Greece to pay back its debt. Such grace would have allowed Greece to more gradually employ necessary measures in a means that might not overburden its economy and its people.
Much insult and injury has been delivered by each party in this family argument, but on Friday the nations got a chance to vent in a very competitive and direct manner. Greece faced Germany, you see, in the quarterfinals of the UEFA European Championship. Greece does not match up well against Germany today in many regards, but if a comparison were made taking into account the course of history, well then we would have a different favorite. Greece does not have a whole lot going on these days, save soup kitchens and suicides. Its population is much smaller than Germany’s, but its military is larger including reserves. Greece’s economy cannot compare to the cornerstone of Europe, which is Germany. As far as publicly traded companies, well, that is part of the problem. Greece’s industrial base is much less important than Germany’s, with Greece’s focus on tourism, agriculture and shipping.
The National Bank of Greece (NYSE: NBG) trades in penny stock territory at $1.76 per share in New York, though it’s still sporting a market capitalization of $1.68 billion. Germany’s best known bank is Deutsche Bank (NYSE: DB), trading upward of $35 per share, valuing the company at $32.7 billion. Germany’s largest companies are in fact on the tip of the tongue of most Americans, while Greek firms are generally not known except by Greek-American stock nerds like your Wall Street Greek. Clearly, economically speaking, Greece is a second class citizen. Much of this is because of the great brain drain that occurred for Greece after Ottoman rule and during the dark days following World War II. Whether because of communism and civil war, or for survival’s sake, a great many Greeks left Greece and are now domiciled across the globe. Greeks are leaving again today for their own survival, and are being welcomed by their brethren overseas. It’s unfortunate, though, that sometimes they never return.