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For Philipp Brinkmann, chief executive of a Greek online travel agency that serves about 1 million customers, summer is his busiest and most profitable time of year. Not so, the summer of 2015. As Greece's economy reels from the imposition of capital controls and its economic future remains uncertain, Brinkmann's company, Tripsta—known in Europe by its brand name Travelplanet24—is suffering from a case of sunstroke, so to speak.
The Greek banking system is on the brink of collapse—and the imposition of controls, limiting withdrawals to 60 euros a day, has paralyzed Greek-based companies like Brinkmann's. No one is spending, suppliers can't be paid, and the creditworthiness of companies is at risk, as transactions have ground to a halt. As if all that is not serious enough, Brinkmann said 35 air carriers have stopped honoring Greek credit cards, so his office in Athens has been unable to issue tickets.
The drachma may not have reared its head here yet, and may not if Greece reaches an agreement for a new bailout with its creditors, but with the uncertainty of Greece's financial situation and the imposition of capital controls, Tripsta is but one of dozens of Greeks companies that are considering pulling out of Greece to move to more business-friendly countries if that happens.
According to Brinkmann, Tripsta's management team and headquarters may move to Bucharest, where a marketing team and call center already exist. That's a harsh reality for its 280 Greek employees.
In addition, the Greek government submitted a new package of reforms proposals to the Eurogroup and Parliament on Thursday night that included a provision to increase the corporate income-tax rate from 26 percent to 28 percent and to require companies to pay 100 percent of their tax bills a year in advance.
Whether those proposals will clear Greek lawmakers, especially those who are anti-austerity, is not yet clear, but even the inkling that this might be an indication of things to come has many companies seriously considering abandoning Greece.
A corporate exodus from Greece has, in fact, already been under way since 2012, when FAGE, the international dairy company and makers of the top-selling yogurt, transferred its headquarters to Luxembourg to reduce its exposure to the Greek financial market. That year, Coca-Cola Hellenic, a bottling subsidiary of Coca-Cola, settled its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, and switched its main market listing to London.
The latest corporate casualty might be the Antenna Group, one of the country's biggest media networks, whose operations include broadcasting, publishing, Internet services, telecommunications and a record label. The Greek press has been abuzz with rumors that the company, founded in 1988, is going to move its financial operations to Amsterdam. When contacted for comment, the company would not confirm whether or not these rumors were true.
Meanwhile, in Nicosia, Cyprus, businessmen and real estate agents are reporting that at least a dozen shipping and financial companies are making queries about corporate space in anticipation of relocating to the capital of the island-nation.
Panos Danos, a real estate property consultant in Athens, said he has had 20 requests in the last week from companies in Greece asking for space in the capital of Cyprus, Nicosia and Limassol.
"Given the uncertainty over the future, it is reasonable that these companies are seeking to relocate," the managing director of Danos, an alliance member of BNP Paribas Real Estate, pointed out. Although he would not reveal the clients' identities, he noted that 70 percent of the queries came from shipping companies.
Michalis Pilikos, the head of the Employer and Industrialists Federation of Cyprus, also confirmed that there have been queries, although he admitted the trend is still at an early stage. He, too, would not reveal names.
Relocating to another country during this difficult time in Greece is a sensitive issue, and shipping executives don't want to be seen as abandoning their country, Pilikos explained, referring to why so many executives do not want to speak on the record about their plans.
But for many businesses, it may well come down to a simple reality: With imposition of capital controls and fears that the banking system may implode completely, it has become extremely difficult, if not impossible, to conduct business as normal. Suppliers can't be paid, as money transactions outside of Greece have ground to a halt, jeopardizing companies' creditworthiness.
—By Dody Tsiantar, special to CNBC.com
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