U.S. market crash shakes Tallinn bourse

  • 2000-04-27
  • By Jaclyn M. Sindrich
TALLINN - "I don't see any reason for panic," claimed Eesti Telekom's public relations officer, Raul Kalev, after last week's U.S. stock market fallout, which set off chain-reaction market despair around the globe.

His words mark the tone of many Estonian stock market analysts. Still, Estonia was not left unscathed on April 17. Eesti Telekom, the country's main technology stock, rules half the market. On April 14, it lost 7.89 percent. Uhispank plunged 8 percent. In fact, all of Estonia's main-list stocks dropped, following the lead of the American collapse.

Although the markets have emphatically rebounded, at least for now, some analysts predicted the crash is just a sampling of what is to come.

"Clearly, the bubble has burst," said Anthony Perkins, chairman of Red Herring Communications and co-author of "The Internet Bubble: Inside the Overvalued World of High-Tech Stocks - And What You Need to Know to Avoid the Coming Shakeout," in a Salon.com article.

"I think that intuitively people knew that the market was artificially propped up, but everyone has been making so much money in the market in the last two or three years, so no one wanted the music to stop, and it kind of took on a life of its own," he said.

Toomas Reisenbuk, head of research at Trigon Capital, agreed that the tech market in the United States is "ridiculously overvalued."

But when investors panic as they did on April 14, and if such failures glut the future on Wall Street as some predict, how much can the Estonian economy really be affected?

Reisenbuk suggested that fallout, even an ocean away, should not be underestimated, and he doesn't doubt Eesti Telekom shares as well as telecoms throughout Central Europe will see further declines in the coming months.

"I expect a much lower turnover and a drop in prices until there is a balance found [in technology stock prices,]" he said, stressing that risk aversion and flight to quality stocks will increasingly dominate the psychology.

But others have simply passed off the havoc as a fluke and are doubting the reality of any long-term consequences.

A large chunk of stocks on the Tallinn bourse - about three-quarters - are held by foreign investors, reminded Uhispank equity analyst Sander Danil. "We [Estonians] can't even control the trade. . .and our market is different, because it is not as driven by technology."

Indeed, Danil, along with Telekom officials, seemed unshaken by the woes of Wall Street. Danil noted Hansapank and Uhispank's recent release of positive first-quarter results even pointed to the possibility of an upward trend in the coming months, though probably not a sharp one. "Investors are still quite cautious," he said. His message: Don't mistake caution for hysteria.

Kalev said if anything, Eesti Telekom's price is too low, compared to other Eastern European telecoms, suggesting that it would gain value.

"I can say that [the market drops] don't have to do with our financial numbers. This was like what we saw at the end of last year with Y2K, when prices lowered for no reason."