Stock exchange looks at past, prepares for future

  • 1998-09-17
  • By Parker Ruis
VILNIUS - While the gloomy Russian economic crisis and all its possible effects dominate the financial headlines, the National Stock Exchange of Lithuania (NSEL) has found a reason to put worries aside for a short time. On Sept. 11, officials of the NSEL celebrated the exchange's fifth anniversary.

Although its five-year history was not always problem free, officials stated they were extremely satisfied with the stock exchange's developments and optimistic about its future.

According to NSEL statistics, the growth over the past five years has been monumental. In 1993, a meager 44 issues appeared on the trading list and trading volume reached $304,900

As the trading list grew, it was broken up and reorganized. Now seven blue-chip stocks appear on the Official List, 57 are on the current list, and 1,310 rarely traded issues are unlisted. The trading volume for the first half of 1998 reached $167.3 million.

"I remember the first press conference we had," NSEL Management Board Chairman Rimantas Busila told reporters. "Five years is not such a long time. One serious and important decision that was made from the beginning was that the set up had to be well regulated, centralized, safe. During these years we've educated ourselves, gained lots of knowledge and have tried to educate society by giving them more information about the stock exchange."

Virgilijus Poderys, chairman of the Securities Commission, also praised the way the stock exchange developed. He said passing amendments to the Law on Public Trading in Securities was one of the most important events in the development of the legal framework in recent years because it brings the securities market closer to international standards.

"We decided not to try to reinvent the bicycle," said Poderys. "It was decided that the stock market should be independent and safe. During this time, not a single scandal has ever arisen," Poderys remarked.

While the NSEL has shown consistent growth, and is the largest among the three Baltic states, it is still tiny when compared to the huge markets of America and in Western Europe.

Nevertheless foreign investors do not appear to be ignoring the NSEL. By the end of the first six months of 1998, foreign investment through the exchange totaled 893.3 million litas ($223.3 million) or 46 percent of the total investment.

Richard Goldman, a senior banker of Paribas Bank, has said the NSEL can improve in some areas, such as correcting a lack of liquidity and reducing the "heavy domination" of the financial sector in the index.

However, he also maintained that there were several bright points that could be a magnet for foreign investors.

"The NSEL features an enormous selection of companies to invest in, a group of truly impressive blue chip stocks, and there is a comparatively healthy underlying economy with good prospects," Goldman stated.

While the Russian crisis was not a topic that was forced into the spotlight by NSEL officials on their day of celebration, Russian problems and possible effects that might be felt on the Lithuanian stock exchange forced some to address the situation. While believing the NSEL will be able to weather the storm, Arturas Keleras, president of the Central Securities Depository, said their was a need to keep an eye on the events and remain cautious.

"We have to keep the investors that we have," stated Keleras. "We should try to create new groups of investors and should not rely on the foreign ones so heavily. We should be very cautious because the financial crisis creates new risks."