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Czech Watch - 17 August 2001

17.8.2001 10:15
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- Both import and export prices slightly dropped month-on-month in the Czech Republic in June (the respective growth rates were -0.3 % and -0.4 %). The fall concerned most commodities. The most important exceptions were import prices of mineral fuels (+0.7 %) that reflected a seasonal upswing of crude oil prices, as well as food prices that slightly grew both on the import and the export side. In year-on-year terms, import prices decreased 0.7 % on average but import prices of mineral fuels, beverages and tobacco and food rose 5.2 %, 1.3 % and 1.4 %, respectively. Import prices of machinery and transport equipment and manufactured goods fell by about 2 %. Compared to June 2000, export prices rose 0.5 % after +0.9 % in May. Extreme changes were observed at mineral fuels (+10.4 %) and food (+7.2 %) as well as at crude materials except fuels (-8.2 %). Prices of machinery and transport equipment slightly decreased (-0,3 %). Overall terms of trade improved in June (101.2 year-on-year). The best results were observed at food (105.7) and mineral fuels (104.9). Terms of trade at beverages and tobacco and chemicals and related products, on the contrary, worsened and reached 97.7 and 99.2, respectively.

- The National Property Fund (FNM) is going to return the privatization of Jan Becher - Karlovarska Becherovka (JBKB) to the Finance Ministry. The FNM believes the project cannot be completed because the Salb company failed to sign the sale contract for 59 % of Becherovka by Wednesday midnight. The Ministry should decide how to proceed with the privatization. Salb CEO Alan Walden-Jones said on Wednesday his company intended to complete the privatization process, provided FNM would guarantee possible losses from a trademark dispute that was not mentioned in the deal’s documentation. FNM couldn’t accept this condition, as the government's resolution on Becherovka's privatization stated that the buyer was responsible for settlement of all trademark disputes. Salb has paid CZK 673m for 30 % of JBKB so far and should buy another 59 % for CZK 1.324bn.

- CNB Governor Tuma said that the corrected inflation forecast in July did not call for a quick change in monetary policy. According to Tuma, inflation has shifted just slightly above the target corridor’s upper boundary and will fall back into the target interval in the first half of 2002. "Last time (at the end of July, when the central bank raised its key rate by 0.25 percentage points - PF) the situation was very clear. At this point my conviction is not strong enough to say where interest rates will go," continued the Governor. Consumer prices rose 5.9 % year-on-year in July, its highest level since December 1998. The CNB’s target corridor for the year-on-year headline inflation starts at 3 % to 5 % in January 2002 and ends at 2 % to 4 % in December 2005. Zdenek Tuma asked again the government to stop accelerating GDP growth with budget deficits. "The deficits, which were set in the period of economic recession, have stayed at the same level until now, even though the economy is going up," he said.

- The Anglo-Swedish consortium BAE-Saab offered the Czech cabinet to buy 24 new supersonic combat planes JAS-39 Gripen for less than CZK50bn. The government had launched a tender for fighters to replace the aging fleet but later said no planes could be purchased due to lack of funds. In May this year, two European and two U.S. groups pulled out of the tender, leaving BAE-Saab alone in the competition. In June, the BAE-Saab consortium had offered 36 aircraft plus full training and support mechanisms for "significantly less" than CZK 75bn and now fine-tuned its bid to better fit the effective demand. The Czech government is expected to review the consortium’s offer by the end of September.

- Firming euro and regional weakness pulled the Czech crown down on Thursday. Late on the day, the crown was trading at 33.99/04 to the euro, down from late Wednesday's 33.91/94. The crown/dollar strengthened to 37.16/20 from 37.21/23 late Wednesday.

- Bond prices rose across maturities, owing to weakened fears on the market of a substantial rate hike this month. The longest 6.95/16 rose 55bps from Wednesday's close at 99.85/15, yielding 6.96/93 %. The 6.75/05 rose 35bps to 101.00/30, yielding 6.40/31 %. The 6.40/10 state bond rose 45bps to 97.00/30, yielding 6.86/82 %. The central bank will auction a CZK 4bn tranche of the state 6.40/10 on Friday and the market expects solid demand.

Late on August 16 bond yield Late on August 15
CZK/EUR33.99/04-33.91/94
CZK/USD37.16/20-37.21/23
State 6.75/05101.00/306.40/31100.65/95
State 6.95/1699.85/156.96/9399.30/60


(Martin Kupka)

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