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Athens News Agency: News in English (AM), 99-03-16

Athens News Agency: News in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr>

NEWS IN ENGLISH

ATHENS, GREECE, 16/03/1999 (ANA)


MAIN HEADLINES

  • Greece determined to fight cuts in EU structural funds
  • Stocks hit new high, brush off politics
  • Bond, forex markets lacklustre
  • EFG Eurobank launches public offer today
  • Consultant chosen to draw capital for roadbuilding
  • GNTO gets three bids for lease of Nafplio Xenia
  • EU unlikely to extend duty-free sales, Papantoniou says
  • GSEE tables 35-work week request to employers' groups
  • Santer solidarity to Athens over recent Turkish threats
  • Latvian President in Thessaloniki this week
  • Karamanlis address at Tufts University
  • Scan with US bonds uncovered
  • AIDS cases in Greece
  • Weather
  • Foreign exchange

NEWS IN DETAIL

Greece determined to fight cuts in EU structural funds

Greece will put up a spirited fight during structural fund negotiations at the Berlin summit on March 24 and 25, National Economy Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said yesterday.

The Greek minister represented Athens at the Finance and Monetary Affairs Council (ECOFIN) session in Brussels.

Speaking during a press conference, he reported strong pressures by the Union's affluent northern countries for a reduction in structural funds' resources, stressing that Greece has adopted many fiscal rehabilitation measures in recent years. He also ad ded that structural funds have a particular significance for the country within the context of its drive to join Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).

Mr. Papantoniou added that economically weaker member-states would hold bilateral consultations in coming days with a view to securing the necessary structural fund resources.

He said the German presidency's proposal, setting a ceiling of structural fund spending for the next six years between 190.5 and 216 billion euros, was not satisfactory for the Greek side.

"Greece insists on the Commission's initial proposal, setting structural expenses at 240 billion euros. Structural funds should be allocated on the basis of each country's prosperity, that is, receiving countries should be those whose GDP per head is lower than 75 per cent of the EU average," he said.

Regarding the Community's own resources, Mr. Papantoniou said Greece would be prepared to accept the continuation of the present system, also noting that the only agreeable change could be the relative reduction in the German participation. He added that Athens was in favour of a tight policy in farm production, on the condition it would not be at the expense of Mediterranean products and small holdings.

In line with most other member-states, he added, Greece was in favour of a reduction in the return of funds to Great Britain, and generally against a general application of the practice.

Finally, he said that Greece did not accept the proposal for the imposition of an energy-tax in the Union, expressing reservations regarding its impact on inflation.

Stocks hit new high, brush off politics

Equity prices rallied to new record levels yesterday for the fourth consecutive session on the Athens Stock Exchange led by the banking sector.

The general index broke through 3,600 points for the first time in its history to end 87.80 points, or 2.47 percent higher at 3,625.20 points.

Turnover was 162.9 billion drachmas and volume was 28,031,189 shares.

Traders said investors were discounting a positive outcome in a second tender for the privatisation of a 51% stake in Ionian Bank.

Analysts noted that the market has distanced itself from political developments ahead of a ruling PASOK party congress this month, instead focusing on healthy economic fundamentals.

Sector indices were mixed. Banks soared 5.30 percent, Leasing gained 4.64 percent, Investment increased 3.56 percent, Insurance ended 0.45 percent up, Construction fell 0.92 percent, Industrials eased 0.29 percent, Miscellaneous ended 1.78 percent down and Holding fell 1.49 percent.

National Bank of Greece ended at 22,842 drachmas, Alpha Credit Bank at 39, 400, Ergobank at 25,605, Ionian Bank at 23,209, Titan Cement at 24,850, Hellenic Petroleum at 2,710, Intracom at 20,190, Minoan Lines at 7,590, Panafon at 9,200 and Hellenic Telecoms at 7,840.

Bond, forex markets lacklustre

Bond prices ended mostly flat yesterday in scant trade yesterday with institutional investors absent from the market.

Interest is focused on today's three-year bond auction for 170 billion drachmas worth of paper, a relatively small amount that could be absorbed by domestic investors alone.

The new 10-year bond was trading at 102.90 and the previous 10-year issue at 117.60.

Electronic trade was minimal at 15 billion drachmas from 54 billion drachmas on Friday and 118 billion on Thursday.

EFG Eurobank launches public offer today

EFG Eurobank launches a share offer today for 10.64 percent of its stock, available to retail and institutional investors.

EFG is a new version of the old bank created when it merged with its subsidiary, Bank of Athens, which was already listed on the Athens Stock Exchange.

On offer are 11,162,500 shares at 8,500 drachmas with another 587,500 shares destined for a private placement to staff.

Consolidated Eurofinance Holdings, EFG Eurobank's parent company, is selling the stock.

Thirty percent of the offer is destined for institutional investors and the remaining 70 percent to retail buyers.

Trade of Bank of Athens on the bourse was suspended on March 11 pending completion of the merger and listing process.

On Friday, shareholders of EFG Eurobank will be asked to endorse a share capital rise of 110 billion drachmas.

Consultant chosen to draw capital for roadbuilding

TENS Hellas, a joint venture between Bank of America and ETEBA SA, was selected by an evaluation committee yesterday as a financial consultant for concessionary contracts in major domestic roadbuilding projects.

The outcome of the international tender was approved by Deputy National Economy Minister Christos Pahtas.

The consultant's task will be to attract private capital for concessionary contracts covering major national artery roads and motorways, especially those in the European Union's Trans European Network (TENS) programme.

The financial consultant will support the authorities in preparing, tendering and signing concessionary loan contracts.

Mr. Pahtas said the government was examining many ways of attracting private capital into major infrastructure projects in the country for use in parallel with the Santer package of EU funds for 2000-2006.

GNTO gets three bids for lease of Nafplio Xenia

The Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO) yesterday received three bids for the long-term lease of its Xenia hotel complex in the town of Nafplio, sources said.

The bids were by the Mandonanakis Group (450 million drachmas annually and investments of 2.15 billion drachmas); Electra Hotels (1.3 billion drachmas every five years and investments of 2.17 billion drachmas); and the Mousama brothers, owners of the A thens Holiday Inn (315 million drachmas annually and investments of 3.3 billion drachmas).

The minimum annual lease set in the tender was 265 million drachmas.

EU unlikely to extend duty-free sales, Papantoniou says

National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said yesterday that the European Union was unlikely to allow an extension for duty free sales, which are due for abolition in the 15-nation bloc on June 31.

Greece had backed a proposal by the EU's German presidency to extend the abolition deadline, but Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Denmark and Portugal had opposed the extension.

Mr. Papantoniou was speaking after a meeting of the EU's finance and economy ministers.

GSEE tables 35-work week request to employers' groups

The first meeting yesterday between the General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) and employers' groups on the 35-hour work week was held in a positive climate, according to reports.

However, no results were achieved, but this is considered natural since dialogue has only just started. All sides agreed to continue the discussion and the next meeting will take place in early May.

GSEE President Christos Polyzogopoulos said the confederation raised the issue in its "purest" form, requesting a 35-hour work week without a decrease in salaries, with a five-day continuous workhour system and respect for labour legislation and relevant agreements.

Federation of Greek Industries (SEB) President Iason Stratos said that the Greek business world cannot accept solutions which will worsen the position of businesses. SEB assesses that the country will join Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) by the end of the year, but Mr. Stratos added that it will only fulfil nominal criteria since the difference in competitiveness with European businesses will remain.

Santer solidarity to Athens over recent Turkish threats

European Commission President Jacques Santer expressed understanding and solidarity for Greek positions in a meeting with Alternate Foreign Minister Yiannos Kranidiotis here yesterday.

He also stressed the need for strong and provocative statements by Turkey to be avoided, which do not contribute to cooperation and peace in the region.

In presenting Greek positions, Mr. Kranidiotis said that Turkey's exaggerations and inaccuracies are due to the pre-election period it is going through, underlining that "it must leave Greece out of its domestic problems."

Referring to the "Agenda 2000", namely the reform of the European Union's fiscal issues, Mr. Kranidiotis placed particular emphasis on maintaining the conviction existing on economic and social cohesion and that the effort to fund development projects in Greece must continue.

On the occasion of the European Commission's report on mismanagement, Mr. Kranidiotis said Greece was in favour of transparency and good management as a contribution to democracy.

Latvian President in Thessaloniki this week

Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis will arrive in Thessaloniki on Friday following his official visit in Athens.

Mr. Ulmanis will arrive in Thessaloniki at 11 a.m. and will depart for Mount Athos by helicopter.

Later in the day he will visit with Thessaloniki Mayor Vassilis Papageorgopoulos, while Macedonia-Thrace Minister Yiannis Magriotis will host a dinner in his honour later in the evening.

Mr. Ulmanis and his wife will depart for Latvia on Saturday following visits to various historical and archaeological sites.

Karamanlis address at Tufts University

Greece has a special interest in the broader Balkan region, where priority should be given to stabilisation and respect for human rights, main opposition New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis said in a speech at Boston's Tufts University yesterday.

"We must avoid any changes in borders, because this is a game with the devil and would open Pandora's Box. Greece acts as a stabilising force in the area, precisely because it stands to lose a lot from a destabilisation, " he said.

He denounced Turkey's role, saying it was trying to change international treaties in the area, and that it should renounce the threat of the use of violence and territorial claims.

Scan with US bonds uncovered

The financial crimes squad (SDOE) said yesterday it had uncovered a scam in which 300 investors bought into what turned out to be counterfeit bonds by a US-based company, to the tune of three billion drachmas.

Owing to the possibility that counterfeit bonds which have not yet matured may be in the hands of other investors, authorities said the total amount swindled may be as high as six billion drachmas.

According to SDOE, which said it had been investigating the case for the past six months, the investors had been given assurances of high returns of up to 14 per cent on their investments.

In most cases, each investor purchased bonds supposedly worth between 20 and 50 million drachmas. However, the majority of investors discovered when they went to collect coupon payments in 1998, that no payments were being made.

SDOE said the alleged mastermind behind the scam was a man identified as Sigurdur Nordal, a citizen of Iceland, who had come to Greece in late 1996 as president of the US company Nordic American Inc., bought out the insurance company Standard Hellas S.A . and in cooperation with the Corinth- based firm Horizon Investment, started selling bonds issued by the US company.

Undertaking the exclusive sale of the bonds, Horizon built up a sales network of insurance agents in Corinth, Patras, Kalamata, Larissa, Volos, Athens and elsewhere.

Horizon's insurance licence was subsequently revoked in November 1997 because it was not fulfilling its obligations with respect to the payment of indemnities and was unable to form the technical reserves required by law.

In order to gain their confidence, Horizon representatives showed investors a photocopy of a 10-million dollar bond issued by Nordic Bancorp Inc. (Nevada, USA) which they presented as being some sort of collateral in favour of Horizon.

The bond supposedly corresponded to participation in underground gold deposits in Zimbabwe and is contrary to international banking practice because there is no way of assessing the actual existence or size of such reserves in the ground.

Investers were also encouraged to personally deposit their funds in a Nordic account at the reputable financial organisation Merrill Lynch.

But after being deposited, the funds were automatically transferred to a Nordic account which was exclusively controlled by Sigurdur Nordal personally.

In other words, the funds unconditionally ended up in the hands of a private individual.

Citing information, SDOE said Nordal had organised a similar scam in Venezuela in 1996, leaving behind outstanding debts totalling 1.5 million dollars to investers in the South American country.

AIDS cases in Greece

Greece documented an extra 47 full-blown AIDS cases in the last quarter of 1998 although experts said yesterday that the true number of AIDS and HIV- infected persons was higher than the number on the books.

"Unfortunately, in Greece we have not properly documented the cases which are regarded as obligatory to register," one expert said at a news conference.

About 2,500 AIDS patients are receiving treatment at the moment, according to the ministry's figures.

However, speakers said that the real number of cases was probably higher as new infections were being presented at information and support centre by the day.

Mr. Kotsonis announced a plan to inform teenagers of the dangers of AIDS and of preventative care, with a pilot programme getting under way at 20 junior high schools as of September.

WEATHER

Local cloud and scattered showers in the Aegean and Thrace will prevail throughout Greece today. Winds variable, light to moderate. Partly cloudy in Athens and possible rain in the evening and temperatures betweeen 7-16C. Same in Thessaloniki with temperatures from 4-12C.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE

Tuesday's rates (buying)
U.S. dollar          290.964
Pound sterling       472.688
Japanese yen (100)   247.266
French franc          48.605
German mark          163.014
Italian lira (100)    16.466
Irish Punt           404.829
Belgian franc          7.904
Luxembourg franc       7.904
Finnish mark          53.624
Dutch guilder        144.678
Danish kr.            42.892
Austrian sch.         23.170
Spanish peseta         1.917
Swedish kr.           35.871
Norwegian kr.         37.398
Swiss franc          199.179
Port. Escudo           1.590
Aus. dollar          183.981
Can. dollar          190.563
Cyprus pound         550.937
Euro                 318.829
(C.E.)
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