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Czech Watch – 19 June 2001

19.6.2001 8:40

- Services grew 8.4 % year-on-year in real terms in April (there was one working day more than in April 2000); the seasonally adjusted month-on-month increase was 0.5 %. Retail sales (incl. sale, maintenance and repair of motor vehicles and sale of automotive fuel) went up 5.7 % year-on-year. The highest increases were recorded in sales and repair of motor vehicles (+10.1% and +16.1%, respectively) and in sales of pharmaceutical and medical goods, cosmetic and toilet articles (+14.0%). Large retail chains selling non-specialized items with a dominant share of food still exhibit above-the-average growth rates. Compared to April 2000 sales in hotels rose +10.0 %, restaurants stagnated. Transport sales grew 12.0 % year-on-year. Unlike road transport, which rose 6.5 %, railway transport fell 2.7 % due to lower output of freight transport. Sales in telecommunication rose 26.9 %, computer and IT sales grew 11.5 %. Other business activities were up by 9.5%, mainly owing to architecture, engineering, and security.

- CNB Vice-Governor Ludek Niedermayer said on Monday that "the economy is growing (and) the risks are rather on the upper side of the inflation prognosis." The comment is in line with recent statements by other CNB representatives that risks have been shifting to the upside. “All in all figures are showing that (GDP) growth will be a tiny bit higher than expected, and that can create certain, for example inflation, pressures," Niedermayer continued. Niedermayer added that decline in growth abroad would have a significant negative impact on the Czech recovery. CNB forecasts Czech real GDP growth in the range of 2.3-3.3 % for 2001. GDP results for the first quarter of 2001 will be released on June 25.

- Three trade unions representing workers in the electricity and heating sectors announced a strike alert. The unions are afraid that the forthcoming privatization and restructuring in the sector will lead to extensive job cuts. Therefore, the unionists demand a "social pact" that would safeguard conditions set in the collective agreement. Namely, trade unions ask for stable wages in real terms and a fund that would help preserve employment and create new jobs. Further on, the unions ask the government to combine liberalization of the energy market with adoption of standard European social legislation.

- Fitch downgraded Zivnostenska banka's (ZB) intra-country issuer rating to "IC-B/C" from "IC-B”. Fitch also assigned the bank, which is majority owned by Bankgesellschaft Berlin (BGB), support rating of "4", and affirmed its short-term local currency rating at "LC-1". "Recent problems at BGB have created uncertainty as to the strategic and financial support available," Fitch explained. ZB had had support rating of “3” from Fitch but had its ratings withdrawn at its own request last year after BGB raised its stake to over 85 %. ZB is the seventh largest Czech bank but controls only 3 % of the local banking assets.

- The contract that should replace the agreement on government guarantees for IPB assets will not be discussed by the government this week, as it was originally supposed. Finance Minister Rusnok and CSOB CEO Kavanek signed a joint statement on Friday where they recognize the validity of the agreement on government guarantees also after June 19 and until the signing of the restructuring plan. The agreement on guarantees expires on June 19. Minister Rusnok said he wants to study the documents in peace and will not take them to the government this week. According to the proposal, “black” assets with a book value of some CZK 46bn will be transferred to KoB. The “grey” assets worth some CZK 130bn will remain to be managed by CSOB, will be further classified, and will affect KoB's result only in the following years.

- The Czech crown was quiet and little changed in Monday's trading. CZK dipped slightly following favorable April retail sales data but recovered to late Friday's levels by the end of the day. Late on Monday CZK/EUR was at 33.96/98, marginally lower than late Friday's 33.94/97. CZK/USD fell to 39.44/46 from 39.37/39 late on Friday.

- The EU's pledge to conclude membership talks with the best candidates in 2002 supported long-end Czech bonds on Monday, but fears of inflationary pressures and continuing negative sentiment sent prices back in the afternoon. The state 6.95/16 bond ended 5bps below late Friday's levels at 98.60/90, yielding 7.10/07 %. The state 6.75/05 ended flat at 101.70/00, yielding 6.20/11 %.

Late on June 18 bond yield Late on June 15
State 6.75/05101.70/006.20/11101.70/00
State 6.95/1698.60/907.10/0798.65/95

(Martin Kupka)

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