HABA Features Fireside Chat with Dr. Vassalou, on Fed, Eurozone, Greece

NEW YORK – The Hellenic American Bankers Association (HABA) launched the community’s fall season of events with a timely “Fireside Chat” between CC Track Solutions CEO Bob Savage and Dr. Maria Vassalou, a partner at Perella Weinberg Partners, titled “Europe, U.S. Rates & Global Growth.”

New HABA President Demetri Papacostas, who is Head of FX and Eco Market Specialist at Bloomberg, introduced HABA’s new Board of Directors and spoke briefly about the events and initiatives that are being planned.

Savage introduced Vassalou, a funds manager whom he called “a rising star in the financial world…who publishes a lot.” From 1995 to 2006 she was Associate Professor of Finance at Columbia University’s Business School.

The discussion began with the Federal Reserve, “which is on everybody’s mind.” Savage said, since it once again passed on raising interest rates.

In her overview, Vassalou explained that structural changes in the U.S. and global economy have weakened the efficacy of rates changes as an economic tool, especially the fact that new investments in the United States are no longer dominated by traditional brick and mortar tangible assets but by intangible ones like intellectual property and research that don’t react much to rate changes.

She also noted that she is not concerned that rates were not raised at this time.

Savage and Vassalou spoke about issues like the massive debt overhangs all over the world and the challenges facing the Eurozone, which led inevitably to the topic of the Greek crisis and the new bailout memorandum.

“The good thing that has happened is that everyone agrees that the debt is not sustainable, but Greece also needs to get its act together in that in cannot run perpetual deficits…it needs to rationalize its economy and provide an environment that is attractive for new investments.”

Vassalou expressed her concern that many of the structural reforms being pushed by the troika “are not really that…they are micromanaging the system and trying to give advantages to other European companies that want to do business in Greece and not helping Greece get better.

“Greece has to make the country more business friendly, but raising taxes and increasing the VAT in the tourism sector – the only industry that works – is not the way to go…they need to sit down and agree about what needs to be done, but only if they lead to positive long term outcomes.”

She said there is potential in the Greek economy for growth, but not under austerity.

Savage asked Vassalou what advice she would give to Tsipras, and she reminded that “it’s not only important to be right, it’s also how we do things that make a big difference…Greece must learn to negotiate in a way that is credible…that creates win-win situations…you cannot insult your European partners and expect to extract guilt from them.”

Regarding debt restructuring, she said that could be done through haircuts or though changes in its terms, but warned regarding bank restructuring that haircuts for Greek depositors would be detrimental for Greece and other Eurozone members.

She made the general point that Greece’s issues are symptomatic of many other EU problems, and the recent bailout negotiations revealed cracks in the Eurozone that Greece should take advantage of by taking reforms more seriously and seeking allies. Vassalou noted that France appears to have found its voice as a check against the German perspectives and demands.

When Vassalou was asked if some of the unorthodox proposals like Yannis Varoufakis’ ideas for a parallel currency and IOU’s made sense, she said “Absolutely not.

Savage asked Vassalou what kind of career advice she likes to give, and she noted, referring to what she tells her two sons, that the world is changing so rapidly that the best guidance she could offer is general. She says students should strive to be good at math, and to take courses in economics, because whatever field they end up in – at least after graduation – economics will give them a valuable perspective on how the world works.

Fanny Trataros, the new VP who works for Lexington National Services, thanked the guests and invited everyone to remain for the Wine & Hors d’oeuvres Reception.

Guests and HABA officials congratulated and thanked outgoing president Costas Kellas and offered best wishes to the new board and officers.


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