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Monday, April 24, 2017

Thessaloniki's Private Equity Port

It was announced that 67% of the Thessaloniki Port Authority has been sold by the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund to a socalled 'German-led consortium'. The lead member of this consortium is "Deutsche Invest Equity Partners GmbH", joined by the French "Terminal Link SAS" and "Belterra Investments Ltd." of Cyprus.

The financials of the transaction sound rather attractive: the total value of the deal is said to be 1,1 BEUR, of which 232 MEUR are for the acquisition of the shares. The remainder consists of mandatory investments, license fees, dividends, etc.

Deutsche Invest is a Munich-based private equity fund. Its website doesn't reveal very much information. The internet information about Terminal Link is even less. And no information can be found about Belterra (other than the fact that it is domiciled in Cyprus).

The above consortium won the deal over two other bidders: the International Container Terminal Services, a Philippines-based powerhouse in the field of container ports and terminals worldwide, and P&O Steam Navigation Company, the 168-year old bastion of the British shipping industry which now belongs to Dubai Ports World, a giant in the industry.

Since I have no background information on this transaction, I can only comment on it based on the brief announcement about the transaction in the media.

Here is, on one hand, a Munich-based private equity firm whose website lists a total staff of 5, and two powerhouses in the industry on the other. That is in and by itself highly unusual. The Deutsche Invest consortium won the deal because it had submitted the highest bid. If that was the only criterion of the seller, the HRADF, it was a rather short-sighted criterion.

A private equity firm has only one strategic interest when making investments: to sell the investment to someone else within a foreseeable time frame, seldom more than 5 years. Obviously at a good profit. That's neither good or bad; it's the business model of a private equity firm. Everything that is done during the limited period of ownership, every decision which is taken has one single priority - to increase the value of the investment for resale. More often than not, the methods applied in making the bride presentable for the next wedding are somewhat questionable.

Not in my wildest imagination can I come up with any explanation as to why the HRADF would have chosen a private equity firm over seemingly interesting strategic investors. Sorry, I can come up with one: maximize short-term profit. The only problem with that is: when privatizing state assets, the maximization of short-term profits should be the least priority of all. Far greater priorities would be the strategic importance of the buyer, the potential for know-how transfer, etc.

I have written on many occasions that I consider Cosco, the investor in the Piraeus port, as the prototype of an ideal foreign investor for Greece. Based on what I know so far, The Deutsche Invest consortium seems to be the prototype of the foreign investor that Greece should stay away from.

ADDENDUM per April 25, 2017
According to an article in DER SPIEGEL, the person behind Belterra of Cyprus is Ivan Savvidis, the Greek-Russian dealmaker of questionable renown. That rounds out the picture quite nicely: a small private equity firm which wants to cash-out reasonably soon; a questionable Greek-Russian miniature oligarch who obviously aims at collateral benefits and two global players in the industry who wonder about the ways and means of the Greek government.

ADDENDUM #2
I have just learned that behind the French "Terminal Link SAS" is the French Group CMA CGM Group. That also seems to be a powerhouse in the industry so that I have to take some of my above criticism back. The question would still be: why does such an industry powerhouse need the services of a small Munich-based private equity firm and a questionable Greek-Russian dealmaker?

44 comments:

  1. Terminal Link SAS operates as a subsidiary of CMA CGM S.A. CMA's website is quite informative, I think.
    https://www.cma-cgm.com/the-group/activities/shipping/terminals

    Based on what I am reading, Belterra represents Ivan Savvides' interests. http://www.capital.gr/epixeiriseis/3206828/me-relans-231-9-ekat-diep-cma-sabbidis-piran-ton-olth

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  2. Just for the record, there was an international bid for the privatization of the Port of Thessaloniki in 2008. According to this article* (in Greek), a Ηutchison**-led consortium had won the bid, but later withdrew due to inability to carry out its €489 million investment plan.

    Cosco and Dubai Ports were the other two bidders then.

    *http://www.tovima.gr/politics/article/?aid=247958
    **http://www.hutchison-whampoa.com/en/businesses/port.php
    **https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hutchison_Whampoa

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  3. I think the answer to your question rests with how the sales proceeds are being used. None go to the state. They all go to a special account that is supposed to reduce the ridiculous debt Greece has and of course don't even make a dent.

    Therefore the decision for short term sighted goals rests with the lenders and not the Greek state. Greece has very little to do with these deals. Any benefits to Greece are only indirect and over a very long period of time which is another way of saying that any such benefits are miniscule by any metric. The rest is political BS (the false mantra that all foreign investment is good any which way you can get it except of course the type of FDI Greece does which has nothing to do with long term benefits rather short term debt reduction against the mountain of debt Greece has, make such efforts of debt reduction simply ridiculous in their insignificance).

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  4. CMA CGM is the third largest shipping line in the world.
    I have always held that Thessaloniki could be a very interesting port as an and destination into south east Europe. It could be for CMA CGM what Koper in Slovakia is for COSCO. The money making potential for end destinations is much bigger than for transit hubs like COSCO's Piraeus and CMA CGM's Malta. The challenges of operating an end destination are also bigger, and so are the investments. A hub can be operated fairly independent of your environment, you only have ships and people going in and out, the rest of it you can control yourself. An end destination is an integrated service including piloting, wharfing, custom, trucking and rail, for that kind of service you need a good business climate and seamless coordination, you are not an "island", as a hub can be. Koper has all of that, and it's a Freeport. I'm afraid that Piraeus "lost the train" for being an end destination, the business climate was not there at the right time, the geography is also not perfect. Let us hope that Thessaloniki is wiser and more mature, they certainly have the geography.
    Lennard

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    Replies
    1. Lennard:

      What are you talking about? Piraeus lost the train? What train, where?

      The Piraeus port is fast becoming the largest and busiest port in the Mediterranean. Are you aware that Piraeus is the star performer in Cosco's portfolio?

      http://www.joc.com/port-news/european-ports/port-piraeus/piraeus-port-continues-shine-cosco_20170118.html

      Not to mention that Kathimerini's Berlin propaganda machine newspaper (not really a newspaper but Berlin's press office in Greece) places it as the fastest growing port in the world circa 2015:

      http://www.ekathimerini.com/201818/article/ekathimerini/business/piraeus-named-the-fastest-growing-port-in-the-world

      Where do you get your statistics from? Are you a neighbor of Schauble or what?

      Delete
  5. "Deutsche Invest Equity Partners GmbH" is a subsidiary of TransConnect Unternehmensberatungs- und Beteiligungs AG. According to Bloomberg, Transconnect Unternehmens- und Beteiligungs AG provides private equity and venture capital to companies operating in the field of New Economy. It focuses on investments in German-speaking countries. Unfortunately, I cannot find its website, but in this website the company's Annual financial statements.

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    Replies
    1. I arrived at the same conclusion, as nitwit, no less. Admittedly it reminded me of a chance encounter on the German business register database. Much to my surprise at the time. Looking at one specific firm and name, I by accident encountered the remnants or whatever you call it of on the surface leverage capital business, supposedly sold at the time for one Euro was buried.

      https://www.handelsregister.de/rp_web/welcome.do

      Not sure, if I want to look into these papers, but surely even if you have the "HRB" trade register number, Trans is easy to find while "Deutsche Invest Equity" on fast check doesn't seem to be.

      https://www.handelsregister.de/rp_web/welcome.do

      Delete
  6. It may well be that one has to see this 'German-led consortium' more favorably than I have done. I have not beef to make them look bad. And, indeed, the French connection seems to be a very powerful one. I do find it strange, however, that the government provides absolutely no information and/or explanation when they sell a major asset to foreign investors. Particularly when foreign investment and privatizations are such debated issues, one would expect more information forthcoming.

    Whatever the case may be, I do have a bias against financial investors and/or private equity firms and against Greek dealmakers, particularly when they are of Russian origin and of questionable repute. Neither of the two promises, in my opinion, a favorable long-term assessment.

    And the big unanswered question is: why would an industry giant like CMA CGM associate itself with a small private equity firm and a Greek-Russian dealmaker of questionable renown?

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    Replies
    1. For the question:

      1) Deutsche Invest Equity Partners GmbH

      https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/deutsche-invest-equity-partners-gmbh#/entity

      According to crunchbase they invest from 500k to 100M.

      Director is Boris Bernstein, Managing director is Alexander von Mellenthin.

      Both of them seem to have a relation with to GoetzPartners (Alexander von Mellenthin is COO).

      Deutsche Invest Equity Partners GmbH seems to be the investment platform of GoetzPartners?
      Possibly.
      It is also one of the largest advisory firms in Germany.

      2) Savvidis has a very good relationship with Tsipras government but also with Putin.

      He is the owner of

      http://www.agrokomgroup.ru/en

      He seems to have invested more than 200 mil € (without Thessaloniki Port investment) in various projects, from hotels to real estate, a tv licence etc.

      3) CMA CGM is a giant in the industry,but with limited knowledge of Greece.

      At last

      GoetzPartners have good PR with Tsipras and German government?

      http://www.manager-magazin.de/unternehmen/artikel/muenchener-consultants-beraten-regierung-tsipras-a-1034789.html#spRedirectedFrom=www

      http://www.ekathimerini.com/205550/article/ekathimerini/news/govt-denies-hiring-german-consultants

      Technical consultants for the project were Hamburg Port Consulting (HPC) and Marnet.

      Delete
  7. via your mentioning at ekath,

    genauer:

    Since CosCo got already Piraeus, Thessaloniki would have given them a way too high share of Greek ports

    A German consortium might be much more interested to develop the port / train connection to the European manufacturing belt

    via Bulgaria, Romania (Dacia brand), Slovakia (Volkswagen, Rover), Czech (Skoda)

    The Bosporus is already a bottleneck to the Black Sea ports.

    The Train connections via Czech are also at the limit, and bizarre 100 kilometer train tunnels considered.

    All those things are of course not discussed in public.

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  8. Not only is Bosporus congested and accident prone, it is also controlled by a man many consider unstable. I know the treaty from 1936, regulating its traffic, but Erdogan may not share my views on treaties.

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  9. COSCO's Piraeus container port is highly successful as a hub for transshipment. COSCO's intention was to make it an end destination port as well, but location, politics and poor intermodal transport (truck-train-inland shipping-plane) has not favored that. As a consequence very few containers go in and out of the port on the land side, compared with the total throughput. To operate a container hub can be very profitable, but mostly for the operator, not for the local economy. The local economies of end destination ports benefits from the intermodal transport to "the door", and the business and jobs associated with that. Klaus would likely say that hubs are like selling olive oil in bulk, end destinations are like buying it and selling the oil shelf ready. Some people mine iron ore and sell it, others buy it and sell the Swiss watches they make out of it. The higher in the food chain you are, the better you eat.
    Lennard

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    Replies
    1. This makes no sense. If the containers at Piraeus don't go in and out and given the fact that Piraeus is rapidly increasing its tonnage then containers at the port should by piling up sky high.

      By the way, in case you don't know, no one is wearing Swiss watches anymore. People wear trendy devices called activity trackers which among other things show the precise time.

      Not to mention that you comments show that you do not understand how the Chinese are using Piraeus to supply east european markets with Chinese imports.

      Delete
    2. Again, what are you saying?

      Here we have a port (Piraeus) that is rapidly increasing its tonnage and you are saying that no containers go in and out? What do they do then at Piraeus? Pile up containers sky high?

      The rest of you comments show that you simply don't understand how the Chinese are using the port to supply all eastern Europe with Chinese imports. What olive oil are you talking about?

      By the way, people no longer wear Swiss watches. They wear trendy devices called activity trackers which also tell time with precision.

      Delete
    3. Again, what are you saying?

      Here we have a port (Piraeus) that is rapidly increasing its tonnage and you are saying that no containers go in and out? What do they do then at Piraeus? Pile up containers sky high?

      The rest of you comments show that you simply don't understand how the Chinese are using the port to supply all eastern Europe with Chinese imports. What olive oil are you talking about?

      By the way, people no longer wear Swiss watches. They wear trendy devices called activity trackers which also tell time with precision.

      Delete
  10. @ Lennart.
    Phoevos is not really a person. Like the PM's speeches and interviews, his scribling's are part of a scientist's test of an artificial intelligence program. The recognized success criterion is: When a human being has conversation or correspondence with the program, he should believe that it is with another human being of average intelligence.
    Berliner.

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    Replies
    1. A web bot? Like spiders and screen scapers?

      How interesting!

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_Bot

      Delete
  11. Hi Klaus,
    good post.
    the Private Equity guys are in to pay out the "bakshish" for the decision makers in the greek bureacracy. For instance, by hiring some relative for consulting work fresh from university, or what have you. That way the money cannot be traced that easily. That's my guess, otherwise I would not know why why the French need a PE firm...
    But since I am a shareholder in the company, I would like to know why the share price is not reacting to the news. Shouldn't there be a mandatory offer for minority shareholders, as is the case everywhere else? Any info on that?

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  12. By all metrics Piraeus and Cosco will be the champions of the Mediterranean by 2019:

    http://www.newmoney.gr/palmos-oikonomias/nautilia/321461-protathlitismo-kanei-to-limani-tou-peiraia-se-krouaziera-containers

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  13. Also it looks like the Chinese would be investing in Greece pretty soon:

    http://www.euro2day.gr/news/economy/article/1535350/to-ependytiko-mnhmonio-poy-etoimazoyn-elladakina-.html

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  14. Any idea what is causing Russian FDI to skyrocket in 2017? I bet you it's this Savidis guy and the Port of Thessaloniki deal behind it. :)

    http://www.tradingeconomics.com/russia/foreign-direct-investment

    By the way and joking aside, frequently the Greek opposition is promoting Cyprus as an example for Greece to follow in matters related to eurozone incompetence. Yet as usual Greek journalists such as the superfluous Papahelas of Kathimerini (aka Nea Tromokratia's press office) are spewing their unbelievable nonsense without facts and figures. Should Papahelas taken the time to look at the Cypriot FDI post 2014 (look up tradingeconomics.com for that) and compared it to the Greek FDI (which btw is about to get a 1.2 Billion boost based on the horrible Fraport deal which will improve the smell and quality of bathrooms in a fe remote airports of zero importance) it would have discovered that no one wants to invest in a country where private accounts are confiscated for the benefit of Berlin. Nor do investors normally invest in occupied countries like Greece with capital controls in full effect.

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  15. Ideas for new products for Greece? There you go:

    http://www.tornosnews.gr/en/greek-news/society/25074-250-e-bag-made-by-olive-oil-and-feta-tin-drives-mykonos-crazy-video.html

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  16. KK:

    I need your help in interpreting the data:

    http://www.pse.gr/node/3327

    Look at the Korean exports to Greece for the 2 months (Jan-Feb). They dwarf German exports to Greece. What is going on? Greeks are now buying south Korean cars?

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    Replies
    1. Obviously a one-off situation. Perhaps some major ship purchases?

      Delete
  17. It would be strange if it's Korean vessels. Typically Greek shipowners buy from Chinese or Japanese shipyards plus the entities buying are not registered in Greece.

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  18. What of the news about the Kasteli new airport in Greece? Does this qualify as good news and I am sure Fraport is not very happpy because it would impact its Chania airport:

    http://www.ypodomes.com/index.php/special-editions/news-in-english/item/40261-kasteli-airport-in-crete-terna-gmr-j-v-submitted-satisfactory-offer

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  19. FYI - For Your Information

    http://www.ypodomes.com/index.php/special-editions/news-in-english/item/40230-greece-which-projects-are-expected-to-operate-by-august-2017

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  20. Finally, conservative Greek journalists like Ellis, are catching up to what I have been saying for ages. Namely that Tsipras has the endorsement of Berlin and that the Greek opposition is totally wasting its time in their pursuit of power via a change in government.

    Mind you, I am conservative myself and the Left never my cup of tea, however the New Democracy party which I call New Tromokratia for its propensity to spread terror and destabilization is a very pathetic vesion of a totally capitulated party to the nonsense of Berlin. You can't be a Greek who loves his/her country and believe that the Greek opposition is anything more than a clownish version of slaves to those who brutaly exploit Greece. Never such traitor party would ever be allowed to reclaim power.

    http://www.kathimerini.gr/907616/opinion/epikairothta/politikh/h-eikona-toy-ale3h-tsipra

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    1. From my point of view, Tsipras has turned out to be the best thing the Troika could ever have hoped for. He says yes to everything and holds down civil resistance. Are we sure that he is a leftist?

      Delete
    2. KK:

      He may not be. Isn't this what you "friends of Greece" have been praying for?

      Delete
  21. But ND can promise what Syriza cannot deliver. That makes you a winner in Greece.

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    Replies
    1. By what means ND will deliver? Blind obedience?

      Delete
  22. In Greece you don't have to deliver, you only have to promise.

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    1. But nowdays Greece has no government; it's administered by Berlin. So no Greek government can promise anything because they simply don't know what Berlin has in mind. The era you describe is long gone.

      Delete
    2. I wouldn't blame Germany too much for all the 'administration' of the last years. First, Germany was not the only administrator and, secondly, it may well be that those who administered Greece in the last years may eventually end up with a lot of praise. Why?

      My wife and I always spend springs and autumns in Greece. I admit that the microcosm in which we move may not be typical of all of Greece but it is always the same microcosm: a mixture of big-city life in Thessaloniki and visits to villages and trips to tourist areas and etc. etc. This microcosm may not reflect Greece overall but it serves well as a basis to measure trends. And here is my surprise for you:

      Greece is on the rebound, no doubt about it!!! I first had that feeling last spring and it intensified last fall. We have now been here for 2 weeks and I am now convinced. I sense a level of positivism if not optimism which I haven't sensed since 2010. In the villages, I see 1-person entrepreneurs who suffered terribly in the past and who now say that they have quite a bit of work. Some of them even in the construction industry. For my car service, I used to get an appointment at Hyundai with a week. Last spring it was already 10 days and this time around it was a little over 2 weeks. I see traffic jams in down-town Thessaloniki which I haven't seen since 2010, and this at gasoline prices 30-40% higher than in Central Europe! I could go on and on. If the official stats do not show that, it's because the official stats miss a lot of reality.

      Barring unforeseen surprises, Greece will sign a deal with creditors soon and it is likely to start benefiting from the ECB's QE. Today, I even read that they are thinking about placing a bond in the markets next June. If some of that (or even all of that) really happens, there will be a lot of positive news about Greece. And positive news will feed upon itself. Financial investors will start wondering whether perhaps they might be missing the bottom of the crisis to make good deals. That, too, could feed upon itself.

      Who knows? We may soon see the financial herds turning around and 'discovering Greece' anew!?!

      Mind you, I don't believe that Greece today is a much better place to do business than 7 years ago. But the herds never pay attention to such details when they start moving. Neither do I think that the bottom of Greek society will benefit all that much from the herds. I just read that about 1,5 million people are without income and assets. I don't think miracles will happen for them.

      But there will be a fairly large section of society which will benefit from the renewed bandwagon. As I said, I don't think it is a new start in a fully reformed country. Not at all!

      But I think that there is a good chance that we will soon see a renewed herd movement. Essentially a repeat of the past. When money comes into Greece, Greece does well. The better Greece seems to do, the more money comes into Greece. And I am fairly certain that the herd will start moving again soon.

      See you at the next 'sudden stop' of incoming money flows...

      Delete
  23. Again the same conclusion: Berlin is very happy with Tsipras.

    http://www.naftemporiki.gr/finance/story/1231326/al-kritikos-sti-n-basiko-senario-cdu-kai-spd-sti-germania

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  24. Greece is not being debated in the run-up to elections in Germany, which seem to be devoid of any surprises. The Tsipras government is operational according to Berlin, legislating difficult measures, even if the level of primary surplus undermines growth. Research Director of the DIW Institute in Berlin, Alexander Kretikos, describes in the "N" the pre-election Germany on the background of the Memorandum of Greece.

    Is Greece the subject of the pre-election debate in Germany?

    "The Greek issue plays no role in this election campaign. After all, whoever touches the subject will be politically lost. The only case in which Greece, naturally, would come back to the public debate in Germany would be the possibility that the country would not pay the big debt installment next July. And as I understand from the current debates between Greece and its creditors, all sides are doing their best to avoid such a possibility. "

    How would you say that the German political system is currently approaching the Greek affair?

    "I think the next German government, if it sees Greece going ahead with the implementation of the program, will do the next steps in the debt sector. More broadly, it is clear that they are served with the government of Alexis Tsipras, which legislates difficult measures. "

    Of course New Democracy seems to be out of the loop in all of this.

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  25. I suppose this is the only chart that counts when observing Greece. KK do you wish to post it somewhere prominent in your blog for everyone to track daily?

    https://www.bloomberg.com/quote/GGGB10YR:IND

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  26. KK:

    Might I suggest a new blog entery regarding the Hellinikon airport? It's the flagship of all investments in Greece and it appears to face serious time delays. Because all delays in Greece have a hypocritical aspect, the major beneficiary of such delays is none other than Lamda Development which controls a key asset for free and does not have to pay anything until all the issues are ironed out. I think examining the Hellenikon deal provides a real time example as to what extend Greece is investment grade and whether FDI has any future in Greece. I think this will teach us a great deal.

    http://www.euro2day.gr/news/economy/article/1536552/ti-pragmatika-symvainei-me-to-ellhniko.html

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    1. Regarding your last 2 comments, I would be happy to post a contribution of yours as an article in this blog where you could focus on the issues which are dear to your heart. I am the wrong guy to write about Hellinikon because far too far removed from the issue to comment on it with substance. I am not even sure that an outsider can grasp everything that is involved here. Regarding the bond yields, yes, they will be important if Greece returns to the markets in the near future. Personally, I think they have to come down quite a bit if everything with the Troika works out as favorably as it now appears. After all, buying Greek bonds is more and more becoming equivalent to buying Euro-bonds. Eventually, the EU will back them up, as we have seen on many occasions.

      Delete
    2. o.k. but it's going to be a major project. Shall we start with a translation of the article and a few introductory comments by me framing the issue properly? I guess somewhere along these lines I have to disclose my expertise in real estate development and deal making for the whole thing to make any sense (in other words attempt to establish authority over the issues otherwise it's one person's opinion vs. the rest). The purpose of such exercise would be also to debunk the prevailing notion that FDI in Greece is a factor of the right politics (i.e. conservative politics favoring such investement vs. left politics scaring them away). My question to you before we even begin is whether you and your audience would have any tolerance and an open mind regarding these issues? Would it be upsetting to discover that some of the things we hold dear and fundamental in our approach may prove to be otherwise? Futhermore how can we do this in a way that neutralizes my own tendency to want to dominate the discussion because I usually overflow with a fair amount of self righteousness? I am afraid that the whole subject might turn to be a humbling experience for me as well and that to some extent will deprive you from the entertainment factor that I so joyfully provide in your blog. I think of it as voluntarily turning my self in and that might be a great shame in the overall scheme of things. In other words what you propose comes with the heavy burden of responsibility if not a whole series of unintended consequences.

      Delete
    3. Have no hesitation. Just send me your article. Tolerance and open mind are, hopefully, major characteristics of this blog, author as well as commentators. You don't have to change your personality. As the Americans say: "Be your natural self!"

      Delete
  27. I would also welcome a coherent article by Phoevos about Hellinikon. I still follow the case as close as I can. As predicted a few years ago, it just won't go away. He is of cause right when he mentions that Lamda has a free option on one of the best pieces of real estate in Greece. I don't think there is any time limit on the option, and I'm sure Lamda will make the most out of that fact.
    Lennard

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