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Czech Watch - 22 May 2001

22.5.2001 10:25

Retail sales rose 3.1 % year-on-year in real terms in March. The number of workdays was one day lower than in the same period a year ago. Car sales jumped 8.5 % and fuel sales added 4.8 % year-on-year. An increase in retail sales was recorded in all categories of goods, with the exception of furniture and household equipment where sales dropped by 6.6 %. Real sales in restaurants and accommodation facilities were up by 4.5 % year-on-year. Sales of transport services grew by 8.0 %, sales in communications added 16.8 % year-on-year, out of which telecom sales rose by 19.4 %. Data processing sales rose 9.5 % and sales of services primarily for companies added 4.1 % year-on-year.

Private Investors, the largest Czech trader in US shares, filed in a petition in bankruptcy. The official reason is that the company was no longer capable of meeting its obligations to clients given the long-term fall of US stocks. The subsidiary Online Investor's activities were halted as well. As late as in February this year, Private Investors reported favorable business results for 2000. The Czech Security and Exchange Commission (KCP) confirmed the firm's bankruptcy. Private Investors' clients should be eligible for compensation paid out from the Guarantee Fund that was established this year. Each client of a brokerage firm is entitled to receive 90 % of assets, with a maximum being CZK 400000.

British individual investors will acquire a 34 % blocking minority in Union Group from its shareholders. The sale aims at strengthening of the Group´s commercial bank (Union banka) retail position and raising its market share from the current 1.5 % to at least 5 % within two years. Services for large corporate clients offered by Union banka will be reduced. A final investor for the bank should be found in a year. Neither the selling price nor the names of selling shareholders were disclosed. Union Group has already sold a pension fund (VOPF) and Union Invest Capital in order to reduce the group's internal indebtedness. Sale of the Polish bank Bank Przemyslowy is now in the final stage.

E.ON, Ruhrgas, Gaz de France, and Wintershall expressed their preliminary interest in Transgas. Some sources say that also Russian Gazprom and Norwegian Statoil are among the potential bidders. Bidders were to submit their declaration of interest to the National Property Fund by Monday's midnight. Based on the decision of the cabinet, the state will sell its stakes in all gas distributors and in Transgas in a single package. The size of the stake in Transgas is still to be determined by the privatization adviser. Earlier this month state-owned Transgas was divided into a joint-stock company, to be put up for sale, and a rump state-held company. The government expects to receive up to CZK 80bn for its shares in the gas sector.

The Czech crown moved in a narrow range in thin trading on Monday and Reuters said that dealers were mixed on whether the market would push the currency higher this week. Late on Monday, CZK/EUR was at 34.32/35 from 34.38/41 late on Friday. Vis-a-vis the dollar, the crown closed at 39.17/19 CZK/USD after 39.18/21 late on Friday.

Czech bond prices. The state 6.95/16 bond lost 44bps to 102.74/04, yielding 6.65/61 %, the state 6.75/05 lost five basis points to 103.70/00, yielding 5.61/52 %.

late May 21 bond yield late May 18
State 6.75/05103.70/005.61/52103.75/05
State 6.95/16102.74/046.65/61103.18/48

(Martin Kupka)

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