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Athens News Agency: News in English (AM), 99-11-09

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, 09/11/1999 (ANA)


MAIN HEADLINES

  • IMF welcomes Greek progress but urges freer economy
  • Papantoniou-Solbes talks centre on timetable for Greece's EMU entry
  • Electricity liberalisation bill to parl't soon
  • Stocks power ahead on market outlook
  • Consortium acquires stake in Duty Free Shops
  • Mutual fund assets rise
  • Clinton visit represents an important political moment for Greece
  • Mock "people's court" for Clinton
  • Greek reservations at Socialist International meeting
  • Canadian FM on two new agreements between Athens, Ottawa
  • Praise for OA at Athens conference
  • Weather
  • Foreign exchange

NEWS IN DETAIL

IMF welcomes Greek progress but urges freer economy

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) yesterday acknowledged progress made by the government in streamlining the economy but urged deeper structural reform to achieve greater liberalisation.

In its latest country report on Greece, the IMF said that more reform was needed mainly in the labour and social insurance sectors, and the pace of change should be faster.

At the same time, fiscal and incomes policy must remain tight in order to avert a rekindling of inflation, the report said.

Greek monetary authorities had consistently pursued stabilisation policies that had created a virtuous cycle essential to Greece's planned entry into the European Union's euro zone by January 1, 2001, and the results were impressive, the IMF said.

"Growth is strong, nominal wage rises are moderate, fiscal developments are better than forecast, and inflation has dropped markedly," the report said.

But the challenge the country had to face was attaining a low rate of inflation on a lasting basis while improving the mid-term outlook for growth and employment.

The economy was likely to meet the Maastricht inflation criterion following implementation of a successful macroeconomic policy coupled with cuts in indirect taxes and other administrative measures.

The IMF forecast that at the end of 2000 and early in 2001, inflation would revert to a rising trend.

Although the Paris-based organisation welcomed the government's policy of privatisation and part-flotations for state firms, it underlined the economic burden of carrying inefficient public enterprises.

The report forecast that gross domestic product would rise by 3.5 percent in 1999 and by 3.75 percent in 2000, topping the EU average for the fourth consecutive year.

Greek exports were stronger, investments were high and the balance between supply and consumption remained dynamic, the report said.

It forecast that the public debt would fall below 100 percent of gross domestic product in 2000.

Papantoniou-Solbes talks centre on timetable for Greece's EMU entry

National Economy Minister Yiannos Papantoniou discussed the timetable for Greece's accession to the 'euro zone' on Sunday with the Spanish EU Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Pedro Solbes.

The timetable anticipates a start to the process of Greece being struck off a list of excessively indebted countries on Nov. 29 and an end with a decision by the EU on Greece's accession at the Lisbon European Council - June 19, 2000.

The scenario for Greece's accession to the euro zone anticipates the process to start for striking Greece off the list of excessively indebted countries. The EU commissioner and Mr. Papantoniou confirmed that this will be done by the ECOFIN council on Nov. 29, following a proposal by the European Commission.

Mr. Papantoniou notified Mr. Solbes that the Greek government will submit the application for accession in early March, specifically between March 5- 12. He noted that according to the discussion he had with the Spanish commissioner the following scenario is expected to be followed: The two evaluation reports on Greek accession are expected to be publicised in early May 2000 by the European Central Bank and the European Commission.

He said the European Commission's report is considered particularly important, which will make a proposal on Greek accession to the euro at the ECOFIN meeting, which will be held by the Portuguese Presidency on June 5, 2000. The decision on Greek accession will be taken by the "15" at the European Council in Lisbon on June 19, 2000. If all goes well, Greece will follow the EMU course for the circulation of the euro with the other 11 euro zone countries.

Electricity liberalisation bill to parl't soon

The government is to send a bill to parliament in coming days that will allow deregulation of the country's electricity market, in line with European Union rules, Development Minister Evangelos Venizelos said yesterday.

Under the terms of the bill, private concerns will have the right to produce electricity from February 2001, ending a monopoly held by the state- owned Public Power Corporation, Mr. Venizelos told a news conference.

The bill also allows the creation of an energy regulatory body to ensure fair competition, and a new SA company to manage energy transmission and distribution.

The Public Power Corporation will retain its status as a vertically integrated production enterprise.

Stocks power ahead on market outlook

Equity prices surged above the 5,700 level yesterday helped by renewed confidence among investors over the outlook for the Greek market.

Traders said the market could again test the 6,000 level in the short- term.

The general index ended 2.42 percent higher at 5,753.60 points, at the day's highs. Turnover was 362 billion drachmas.

The parallel market index for smaller capitalisation stocks ended 3.80 percent higher while the FTSE/ASE 20 index for blue chip and heavily traded stocks rose 1.51 percent to 2,861.41 points.

National Bank of Greece ended at 22,100 drachmas, Alpha Credit Bank at 25, 390, Commercial Bank at 23,900, Titan Cement (common) at 42,400, Hellenic Petroleum at 5,150, Intracom at 14,950, Panafon at 3,760 and Hellenic Telecoms at 6,705.

Consortium acquires stake in Duty Free Shops

A consortium of 10 Greek and foreign companies on Friday won an international tender for the purchase of a 25.25 percent equity stake, worth 54.6 billion drachmas, in Hellenic Duty Free Shops from Agricultural Bank of Greece (ATE).

The consortium comprises Germanos ABEE, Folli-Follie AEBE, Sarantis ABEE, Sanitas Sanitas SA, Intrapar SA, Elmec Sport ABETE, Dorian Bank, Aer Rianta International, Gebr Heineman and Jacques Parson BV.

The group acquired 9,500,000 shares in Hellenic Duty Free Shops at 5,750 drachmas each through a block trade on the Athens Stock Exchange. The deal envisages that the owner of the minority stake will gain control of Duty Free Shops' management.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers and ATE Finance acted as consultants to the sale.

Duty Free Shops operates 37 outlets in Greece's international airports, ports and border stations selling tobacco, spirits and cosmetics.

Mutual fund assets rise

Mutual fund assets totalled 12.205 trillion drachmas on Friday, November 5, an increase of 35.7 percent from the start of the year, Ionian Bank said yesterday.

Expectations of a new rally on the Athens Stock Exchange have been fuelled by the economy's favourable outlook, forecasts of a further fall in inflation despite a rise in October, and talk of a realignment of the drachma's central euro parity.

Such a prospect could lead to a new rally in equity mutual fund assets, already up 941.5 percent on the year, analysts said.

They forecast that 1999 would be a landmark year for the mutual fund market.

Clinton visit represents an important political moment for Greece

National Defence Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos stressed yesterday in light of US President Bill Clinton's visit this week to Athens that Greece's strategic interests called for a "substantive, mature and wholesome dialogue" with Washington.

Mr. Tsohatzopoulos spoke during an event at an air force facility northwest of Athens, which marked the culmination of the four-day celebrations for Archangels Michael and Gabriel, the patron saints of the Hellenic Air Force.

Commenting on possible reactions during the Clinton visit, the Greek defence minister referred to excessive concern and "intentional petty-party politics".

He said the US president's visit represented an important political moment for the course and role of Greece in the broader geopolitical region, while the Greek government, "beyond any sentimental reactions",, will discuss with the US side the complete peace strategy that Athens is promoting in the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East, the Caucasus and the Balkans.

Mock "people's court" for Clinton

Protests against Mr. Clinton's visit began yesterday with a mock "people's court" at Syntagma Square and a peaceful protest march to the US embassy afterwards.

Besides Mr. Clinton, the 20 leaders of forces participating in the NATO bombings against Yugoslavia, including Prime Minister Costas Simitis and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, were also villified.

Greek reservations at Socialist International meeting

The Greek ruling party's delegation yesterday expressed reservations at a Socialist International conference here over inclusion of a reference in a final declaration favouring outside intervention in a country for "humanita rian reasons".

The PASOK delegation, headed by Premier Costas Simitis, expressed a view that an amendment should be incorporated in the relevant provision according to which any intervention should be in compliance with international law and United Nations resolutions .

After similar reservations were voiced by the Swedish Socialist Party, a reference was added to the declaration according to which "interventions undertaken for humanitarian reason" should be within the context of international law.

On the sidelines of the conference, Mr. Simitis had successive meetings with other socialist leaders, including French Premier Lionel Jospin, with whom he raised the issue the issue of EU enlargement with reference to the Turkish candidacy.

Greek sources expressed satisfaction with what they described as a "certain rapprochement" of the views of the French leadership with Greek positions on the issue, and after contacts with Mr. Simitis and FM George Papandreou.

Canadian FM on two new agreements between Athens, Ottawa

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy has announced that Ottawa and Athens have as expected signed two new agreements, namely, a bilateral extradition treaty and a memo of understanding in sports, according to a Canadian embassy announcement yesterday.

Both agreements were signed by Mr. Axworthy and his Greek counterpart George Papandreou, during his recent official visit to Canada.

The extradition treaty replaces an agreement that dates back to 1912. Under the new pact, extradition proceedings between both countries will be facilitated.

In terms of the sports memorandum, he said that "with the 2004 summer Olympics being held in Athens, further cooperation between Canada and Greece in the field of sport is both timely and welcome."

Praise for OA at Athens conference

State-run Olympic Airways is reportedly rated third in terms of the safest airlines world-wide and in regards to flight control, according to results presented at an international conference on flight safety in Athens recently.

The high ratings for debt-ridden Olympic Airways and Greek airports were apparently confirmed after an inspection recently concluded by the US Federal Aviation Authority.

Participants at the conference said that after 1992 there was an increase in air incidents in Greece due to increased air traffic and the emergence of several highly competitive private carriers.

Despite a 27 per cent increase in air travel during 1988-1998 world-wide, accidents dropped by 12 per cent per one million passengers.

WEATHER

Rainstorms will prevail throughout Greece today. Winds variable, moderate to gale force in the Aegean sea. Rain in Athens with brief spells of sunshine and temperatures between 16-20C. Clouds and rain in Thessaloniki with temperatures from 13-15C.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE

Tuesday's rates (buying)
U.S. dollar          312.629
Pound sterling       507.269
Japanese yen (100)   294.158
French franc          49.649
German mark          166.514
Italian lira (100)    16.819
Irish Punt           413.520
Belgian franc          8.073
Finnish mark          54.774
Dutch guilder        147.784
Danish kr.            43.801
Austrian sch.         23.667
Spanish peseta         1.957
Swedish kr.           37.541
Norwegian kr.         39.549
Swiss franc          202.234
Port. Escudo           1.625
Can. dollar          212.209
Aus. dollar          200.186
Cyprus pound         564.527
Euro                 325.674
(C.E.)
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