- Current Cyprus unity talks are one-in-a-generation chance
- Stelios Haji-Ioannou says he avoids "too risky" investments
Low property prices in Cyprus at a time when the country is preparing to exit its international bailout program, and ahead of possible reunification of the eastern Mediterranean island, represent a good investment opportunity, Stelios Haji-Ioannou said.
"Bricks and mortar is probably a good safe investment at the moment on the island," Haji-Ioannou, chairman of easyGroup and founder of the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation, said in an interview in Nicosia on Oct. 25. "It might be too late if it’s obvious to everyone that Cyprus is out of its memorandum," he said. "Prices after reunification will go up."
Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkey invaded the northern third of the island in response to a coup by supporters of union with Greece. The two parts are now led by advocates of reunification, Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, who resumed unity negotiations in May.
Anastasiades, immediately after coming to office in 2013, had to oversee negotiations for a 10 billion-euro ($11 billion) bailout from the International Monetary Fund and Cyprus’s European partners. The country’s loan program officially ends on March 31, 2016. Property prices fell 5 percent in the second quarter from the same period of 2014 following a 6.5 percent annual decline in the first three months of this year, according to Central Bank of Cyprus data.
Efforts to unify the two sides of Cyprus are a "one in a generation chance" and "there will be more investors who will feel safer as the political risk will be reduced," Haji-Ioannou said. "I don’t say it’s going to happen next month, but our generation has a real chance to solve this," he said.
Haji-Ioannou, a U.K. citizen of Greek-Cypriot origin who was knighted in 2006 by Queen Elizabeth II for services to entrepreneurship, was in Nicosia for his seventh annual Cypriot Bi-Communal Awards that promote unification by giving cash to teams of Greek and Turkish Cypriots who create joint businesses. This year, Haji-Ioannou awarded 300,000 euros to 31 bi-communal teams and will expand the amount in 2016 to 500,000 euros.
Haji-Ioannou said he’s not interested in starting a new company nor doing anything "too risky" and advises to diversify in both emerging and developed markets. "I manage my portfolio in a safer way" and "overall diversification is the best approach," he said.
While trying to hold assets in euros, sterling and dollars, "I don’t particularly trade currency," and "because of my significant stake in easyJet plc I think of my portfolio in sterling even though I live in euroland," he said. Haji-Ioannou and his family continue to remain the largest shareholders in easyJet with a near 35 percent stake, according to his personal website.