[ATHENS] Greek bank shares on Tuesday took a battering for a second straight day, but Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos insisted Athens and its creditors could reach a deal on a mammoth new bailout in time for a huge debt payment due this month.
The ATHEX index finished the day down 1.22 per cent after suffering its steepest ever fall of 16.32 per cent on Monday when trading resumed after a five-week shutdown imposed amid the country's debt crisis.
Banking shares were again the worst hit, with Piraeus falling the maximum 30 per cent allowed for the second day running. Eurobank shares fell 29.70 per cent, those in Alpha Bank by 29.65 per cent and National Bank by 28.45 per cent.
"Banking shares are the ones we have the most doubts about," said Konstantinos Botopoulos, head of the Greek financial markets commission. "Their recovery will depend on the recapitalisation of the banks."
The Athens market reopened on Monday five weeks after the government imposed capital controls to prevent a bank run and stave off financial collapse at the height of its standoff with EU-IMF creditors over a new bailout.
Tsakalotos on Tuesday expressed confidence that debt-crippled Greece and its creditors will reach a deal on a new rescue package in time for August 20, when it is due to pay the European Central Bank 3.4 billion euros (S$5.11 billion).
If the deal has not been finalised by then, Athens will be forced to seek emergency aid to pay the debt.
Tsakalotos told journalists the high-stakes talks were going "at least as well as we expected", and that the possibility of an emergency loan for the ECB payment has not figured in the discussions.
The plunge in Greek banking shares highlights investors' continuing anxiety about the nation's stricken economy even after a new international bailout deal worth up to 86 billion euros over three years was agreed in principle last month.
Senior EU and IMF auditors kicked off talks a week ago with Greek ministers to finalise the terms of the new bailout decided after months of acrimonious wrangling.
Analyst Michael Hewson of CMC Markets UK predicted that the new bailout will have to be "well above the 86 billion euro numbers being bandied about, which in turn is likely to make any discussions about debt relief even more contentious."
TALKS ENTER 'PHASE TWO'
Government spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili said initial talks finished on Tuesday and would shift Wednesday to a "second phase" in which the two sides would begin actually drafting the accord.
She said expressed optimism an agreement would be concluded on August 18, "if the two sides respect the commitments of the July 12 summit" that set the stage for the new bailout.
The tough conditions demanded by creditors in return for the rescue funds have put a major strain on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose leftist Syriza party came to power on an anti-austerity platform.
The 41-year-old premier, who faced a mutiny among his lawmakers last month, has warned that early elections will be called if his MPs refuse to ratify the new bailout in parliament.
Uncertainty over the fate of Greece's economy, especially fears of a "Grexit" out of the eurozone, has seen bank customers withdraw some 40 billion euros since December, leaving lenders dangerously low on cash and in urgent need of recapitalisation.
Banks across Greece were ordered to stay shut when the government imposed its capital controls on June 26. They reopened on July 20, but withdrawals and money transfers abroad remain restricted.
Analyst Craig Erlam of Canadian forex trader Oanda said the curbs had helped stem further damage to the banking sector. "In reality, it could be even worse if daily loss limits and a ban on shorting hadn't been put in place," he said.
The reopened stock market currently operates as normal for foreign investors but local traders still face restrictions and cannot buy securities with money from their bank accounts in Greece. They can, however, use foreign bank accounts or make cash transactions.
The Greek economy is forecast to contract by at least three percent this year.
Greece registered record dismal manufacturing data in July, with the latest purchasing managers' index (PMI) falling to 30.2.
"The worst manufacturing PMI number ever... well below the economic breakeven level of 50, (threw) into sharp focus the damage done to the Greek economy in the last few weeks by political uncertainty and the ongoing capital controls," CMC's Hewson said.
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