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Czech Watch – 7 May 2001

7.5.2001 10:40

At a meeting with Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, President Vaclav Havel said that the EU has focused too much on economic issues in the past few years, forgetting about the roots of European integration. Havel and Lipponen agreed that the EU structure should be transparent, as otherwise people would not accept it. Lipponen said that he expected the Czech Republic to join the EU in the first group of countries seeking EU membership and praised the Czech Republic's progress in taking on European legislation.

According to an April poll by Sofres-Factum, the election preferences of the three strongest Czech political entities are very close. The 4K leads with a support of 16.7 % of voters, CSSD follows with 15.3 % and the third ODS got 14.4 %. KSCM would also enter the parliament (9.1 %). The 4K's support dropped from 20.8 % in March 2001 to 18.8 % in early April and 16.7 % in late April. The CSSD's preferences, on the contrary, rose from 7.6 % late last year to 9.8 % in February, up to the present 15.3 %.

The Finance Ministry raised its forecast of the state budget deficit for 2001 to CZK 96.3bn, up from the approved deficit of CZK 49bn. The main factors behind the change are the inclusion of KoB loss for 1999 of CZK 36.1bn, bond issues worth CZK 10.2bn to cover drought, and compensation to members of the bankrupt credit unions. The ministry’s spokesman Libor Vacek argued that the growth in the deficit does not violate the opposition agreement between the ruling CSSD and ODS. The reason should be that the higher spending on KoB and bonds would be reflected in the budget's chapter of state financial assets and liabilities, which last year stood outside the budget. Last year's budget deficit stood at CZK 46.1bn, without KoB losses, up nearly CZK 11bn over the approved CZK 35.2bn.

Jiri Rusnok surprisingly dismissed his First Deputy Jan Mladek responsible for privatization and replaced him with Eduard Janota, previously a deputy minister in charge of the state budget. Mladek, a close colleague of ex-minister Pavel Mertlik, had planned to leave the ministry in June. Rusnok named Tomas Potmesil a new deputy minister for privatization. Potmesil (born in 1949) has worked at the ministry's banking department after having advised former central bank governor Josef Tosovsky (1993-8).

Czech blue chips lost again on Friday, tracking major markets which were hit after worse-than-expected U.S. unemployment figures. The PX50 index lost 0.81 % to 405.8, a record low since April of 1999.

The Czech crown traded quietly in a tight range to the euro, little touched by the surprising widening of a currency band in Hungary late on Thursday. CZK closed local trading around 34.62/64 against EUR on Friday, unchanged from late Thursday. CZK slightly firmed against USD to 38.65/68 from 38.86/89 late on Thursday. Traders said volumes were very thin.

Bonds gained ground. The longest state 6.95/16 rose 47bps to 104.35/65, yielding 6.48/45 %. The 6.75/05 edged six bps up to 103.90/20, yielding 5.57/48 %. The central bank said it would auction a CZK 3bn tranche of the 6.90/03 government bond next Friday.

late May 4 bond yield late May 3
State 6.75/05103.90/205.57/48103.84/14
State 6.95/16104.35/656.48/45103.88/18

(Martin Kupka)

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