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Czech Watch - 24 October 2001

24.10.2001 11:42

- The Prague Cardinal Miloslav Vlk told CTK that the Vatican has given a preliminary consent to the draft wording of the international treaty covering relations between the Czech Republic and the Catholic Church. Vlk rejected the claim of former PM Vaclav Klaus (1992-97) that the Church had hampered the signing of the treaty so far. Crucial was the lack of political will, stressed Vlk and added that negotiations had started only under the current Social Democrat government of Milos Zeman. As concerns recently inflamed disputes over another controversial bill, which recently passed through the Chamber of Deputies, Vlk stated that the “bill on churches” interfered with churches' right to establish their own institutions and is ripe for ending at the Constitutional Court.

- The amendment to the law on private pension funds which the Chamber of Deputies rejected by a narrow majority of one vote in the first reading last week will probably be submitted to the Chamber again in a year. State officials say that it is practically impossible to let approve the new version of the draft amendment until mid-2002, when next parliamentary elections will take place. During revision of the amendment, Ministry of Finance is going to analyze the recommendations presented by deputies but also consult the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. There have been 15 private pension funds operating in the Czech market serving almost 25 % of Czechs.

- The Energy Regulation Office (ERU) announced that as of January 2002 the average price of gas for households is to grow by up to 5 %, the price of electricity by 10.7 %, and the price of heat by a maximum of 4.9 %. Electricity prices will differ regionally, with the largest growth expected in south and west Bohemia. Electricity prices should fully reflect costs of individual activities as of the beginning of 2002. Inflation and profit seeking by producers and distributors will motivate further electricity price hikes. Monopoly gas importer Transgas will charge distributors some CZK 0.03 per cubic meter more due to the removal of internal subsidies, but prices for large and mid-sized customers will not change next year. Further on, gas prices will continue to depend on import prices, which represent up to 80 % of the price for end consumers. The ERU predicts that Transgas will reach the optimum rate of profitability in both gas transport and trade in gas by 2004. As regards heat prices, half of the price increment will serve to covering of own cost and profit generation, the other half to paying for more expensive fuels.

- A ministerial commission for the privatization of a 63 % state-held share in petrochemical holding Unipetrol reviewed nine preliminary non-binding bids and prepared a shortlist of investors to be invited to carry out due diligence. Shortlisted bidders will be published today. The National Property Fund (FNM) said earlier that about twenty companies and consortia had expressed preliminary interest in Unipetrol´s privatization. The government will pick the winner by the end of 2001, estimated proceeds from the sale amount to CZK 16bn.

- The Czech crown opened at 33.31 against the euro on Tuesday and soon strengthened up to a new all-time maximum of 33.26 CZK/EUR. The main reason for the morning firming were reverberations of favorable foreign trade result in September reported on Monday. The following cautious and temporary correction was brought about by fears of verbal intervention by CNB against the crown. Against the dollar, the crown had opened at 37.34 and then tracked the EUR/USD development. CZK/EUR was trading at 33.25/27 late on Tuesday, up from 33.30/33 a day earlier. CZK/USD closed at 37.40/42 on Tuesday, slightly up from late Monday’s 37.42/43.

- Bond prices slightly rose in weak trading on Tuesday, mainly owing to midday purchases of longest state bonds that rose their prices by a spread. The longest state 6.95/16 benchmark gained 30bps to 110.10/40, yielding 5.88/85 %. The state 6.75/05 bond did not change its price from Monday evening and closed at 103.90/15 late on Tuesday, yielding 5.42/34 %.

Late on October 23 bond yield Late on October 22
State 6.75/05103.90/155.42/34103.90/15
State 6.95/16110.10/405.88/85109.80/10

(Martin Kupka)

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