Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., which has seen its 2011 investment in Ireland’s biggest bank jump about 50%, is now focusing on Greece, betting that the worst has passed for the recession-battered nation.
“In terms of the economy, the last four or five years have been very tough for Greece,” Fairfax Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Prem Watsa said in a June 19 telephone interview. “The economy has come down very significantly, unemployment is high. But on the other hand, we think that perhaps a bottom has been reached.”
Fairfax said on Wednesday that it will invest about 164 million euros ($217 million) in Eurobank Properties Real Estate Investment Co. as part of a share capital increase, bringing the Toronto-based firm’s stake in the Greek property company to 42% from 19%.
Watsa said Eurobank Properties is raising money at the right time to take advantage of a “lot of opportunities in Greece.” The country’s state-asset sales program, which includes a large real estate portfolio, has the potential to generate “significant growth” from private investors.
“We think that the prospects in Greece for Eurobank Properties will be very significant in the next five years, perhaps the next 10 years,” he said, without giving any forecasts.
Shares in Eurobank Properties have more than doubled since falling to a low in June 2012, when the Athens Stock Exchange General Index tumbled as inconclusive elections stoked fears about a possible euro exit for the Mediterranean country. The ASE has since gained 46%.
Greece is now in its sixth year of recession, with unemployment at 27% as it fired state workers, cut pensions and wages, and raised taxes. The economy has shrunk by about a fifth since 2008. The European Commission forecast gross domestic product will contract 4.2% this year.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has vowed to meet budget-cut targets, implement structural reforms and speed up state-asset sales to satisfy the conditions of a 240 billion euro loan agreement with the euro area and International Monetary Fund.
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