Romania to Commandeer Gypsy 'Share' Sales

BUCHAREST -- Romania's reform boss said Friday the country would launch a securities market in the next two months to trade pre-share vouchers, which have been plied so far only by gypsies on the streets.

Economic Reform Minister Mircea Cosea said Romania would create the securities market with help from the five private ownership funds handling much of the country's privatization and three private investment funds.

The creation of a formal market would be a significant step in the process of building a free-market economy.

Romania's gypsies are making small fortunes in "street" trading on the incipient ownership certificates market, the business weekly Capital said Friday.

The informal market for ownership vouchers -- which will be eventually swapped for shares in some 6,000 Romanian companies up for privatization -- continues a recent bull ride, according to the newspaper's "ownership certificates index."

"Sell orders still outpace buys," the newspaper said "but the market price for vouchers has risen through the threshold of 14,000 lei ($9.50)."

Romania has doled out pre-ownership vouchers to more than 15 million Romanians in a bid to turn them into a nation of shareholders under an ambitious 1991 denationalization scheme.

Financial markets have been slow to develop, and Romania has yet to launch a stock exchange. So far, the country has three newly created private investment funds -- Capital SA, SAFI SA and Serca SA -- which plan to help people build up investment portfolios.

Romanian gypsies, who form the core of the thriving informal "street bourse," were first to spot the chance to make a quick profit by trading certificates.

They were the first traders of ownership vouchers, which they quickly renamed as "shares." With their garrulous cries "We buy shares," the street-corner certificate traders can earn millions of lei in monthly profits, Capital said.

Gypsies buy the "shares" on the street market -- a purely speculative market -- and resell them for a small profit

The street price for vouchers has risen to 14,000 lei from 2,000 lei, when certificates were first traded in 1992. This compares with official price tags of more than 160,000 lei set by the five private ownership funds, which hold a 30 percent stake in 6,000 companies that are to put into private hands over the next seven to 15 years.