Portugal frees up investment opportunities

For many years Artur Santos Silva has been trying to move the rusty wheels of private industrial investment in Portugal. They are finally starting to turn.

In the past, industrial expansion in Portugal has been tight. The country's three private banks have been allowed to make loans, but these have been closely supervised - maybe even restricted - under the state's central bank. And the main source of credit has been the central bank itself.

Mr. Santos Silva described the changing situation this way: ''Our government in the recent past has tried four times to open up local banking regulations so investment funds would be more readily available, only to have the legislation smothered by the Council of the Revolution. But now, finally we have some new important developments which will allow operation of Portuguese investment societies. It's not wide-open banking but there are features of the plan which can help Portuguese industry right away. These societies will be able to include foreign investors; and while they cannot provide deposit banking, they will be able to make loans of the kind that are needed. We are pleased with this.''

Mr. Santos Silva has been a prime mover of the investment idea: He now is president of the country's first such organization, the Sociedade Portuguesa de Investimentos, headquartered in Oporto, the industrial heart of the country. Its share capital of over $15 million has been subscribed by more than 100 Portuguese companies of varying sizes, none of which own more than 3 percent. Foreign share-holders as a group own a little over 20 percent of the total stock and include three European banks. The International Finance Corporation (World Bank) owns 7.5 percent.

The new SPI can solicit funds both at home and abroad, issuing certificates of deposit for up to 10 times its share capital. It has been negotiating with the IFC for a $10 million loan. And the state's own banking system has guaranteed over $75 million to finance the initial years of operation.

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