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Czech Watch – 25 October 2001

25.10.2001 8:49

- The lower chamber of the parliament smoothly approved the government- sponsored amendment to the foreign exchange law which allows all foreign legal entities running business in the Czech Republic to buy real estate, except for forests and farmland. After approval by the Senate and signing by the President the amendment should come in force as soon as of January 2002. So far only Czechs, foreigners with permanent residence in the Czech Republic and legal entities with seat in the Czech Republic have been allowed to buy real estate without constraint.

- According to Finance Minister Rusnok, the impact of terrorist attacks in the USA and of the subsequent reaction of western economies on the Czech economy could be short-lived, and should not pose a serious threat to its growth. Rusnok expects that GDP growth estimates are likely to change upwards as regards 2001 and downwards for 2002. The minister estimates Czech GDP growth to reach 3.5-4.0 % this year and 3.5-3.8 % next year. Regarding the state budget for 2002, Rusnok announced that the deficit proposed by the Finance Ministry in the next version of the budget bill should be some CZK 5-7bn lower than that in the version rejected by the Chamber of Deputies last week. Among other modifications, the Ministry of Finance is going to reduce both the estimated loss of Konsolidacni banka and the expected budget income from the National Property Fund. Based on deputies' request, spending on defence, the interior, foreign affairs and universities will be increased.

- Four shortlisted bidders for a state-held share in petrochemical holding Unipetrol include a consortium of Agip, Shell and Conoco, a consortium of MOL and TVK, a consortium of OMV and Agrofert Holding, and Rotch Energy. The subjects will be allowed to get familiar with the assets put up for sale starting next week. Unipetrol's subsidiaries include Ceska rafinerska, Kaucuk, Chemopetrol, Benzina, Agrobohemie and Paramo. The US-European consortium ICTS Information Systems B.V. that was not shortlisted by the inter-ministerial steering commission announced that it would like to rejoin the competition. The company does not want to discredit the running tender but claims that the bids that have been submitted so far were preliminary and non-binding. The National Property Fund said that the commission would be able to take a stance on ICTS at its next meeting, whose date, however, has not been set yet.

- Wintershall AG has pulled out from the tender for the privatization of the Czech gas sector but its consortium partner, RWE Gas AG, stays in the game. Wintershall quit due to internal reasons and the fact that it will prefer projects in other countries. There have been six short-listed bidders competing in the tender and the responsible commission should agree on the winner and provide the cabinet with its name by mid-December. Purchase contracts with the winner are to be signed at the beginning of 2002.

- The Chamber of Deputies passed an amendment to the law on investment incentives designed to improve the efficiency of controlling mechanisms when granting the incentives and to establish closer links between this law and the law on public support. Deputies also passed a cabinet-sponsored amendment to the law on the protection of goods whose quality and characteristic features are related to specific geographical regions. The bill suggests a new specification of the protection of agricultural and food products. The law is to take effect on April 1, 2002, with the exception of particular provisions that will come into force as soon as the Czech Republic enters the European Union.

- The Czech crown strengthened up to a new maximum of 33.17 CZK/EUR early in the morning on Wednesday but then the trend reversed and the crown gradually slid down to 33.32 CZK/EUR in the afternoon. The trend reversal was supported by Minister Rusnok´s announcement that the currency conversions related to Societe Generale´s payment for Komercni banka were completed. Against the dollar, the crown had opened at 37.21 and then tracked the EUR/USD development. CZK/EUR was trading at 33.30/34 late on Wednesday, slightly down from 33.25/27 a day earlier. CZK/USD closed at 37.37/39 on Wednesday, slightly up from late Tuesday’s 37.40/42.

- Bond prices rose again considerably on Wednesday. The wave of purchases pushed up prices of state bonds 6.95/16, 6.40/10, 6.55/11, and 6.75/05. During the day, state bonds with longest maturities gained 75 - 95bps. Also corporate issues strengthened but a record price gain, 140 bps, was shown by a municipal bond, Praha 6.85/11, whose yield dropped by 19bps. The longest state 6.95/16 benchmark gained 95bps to 111.05/35, yielding 5.79/76 %. The state 6.75/05 bond rose 30bps to 104.20/45 late on Wednesday, yielding 5.32/24 %.

Late on October 24 bond yield Late on October 23
State 6.75/05104.20/455.32/24103.90/15
State 6.95/16111.05/355.79/76110.10/40

(Martin Kupka)

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