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Czech Watch – 10 April 2001

10.4.2001 9:47

- Czech central bank is going to replace net inflation targeting with headline inflation targeting as soon as for 2002. ČNB Governor Zdeněk Tůma said at a press conference that the central bank had set the 2002 headline inflation target at 3 – 5 %, year-on-year. The central bank aimed to gradually cut year-on-year headline inflation to 2 – 4 % in 2005. The government had approved the targets. ČNB predicts headline inflation of 3.6-4.8 % at the end of this year, and has a target of 2.0-4.0 % for net inflation this December. Analysts said the switch from net inflation to headline inflation could indicate some agreement achieved between the government and the bank on the schedule for future deregulation.

- Consumer prices rose 0.1 % month-on-month in March, after stagnation in February. Year-on-year inflation rose at 4.1 %, from 4.0 % in the previous month. The major factor behind the CPI increase in March, a 0.2 % monthly rise in the housing and energy prices, came on the back of increases in regulated prices of heating and care in retirement homes. Net inflation, which strips out administrative price changes, was zero month-on-month in March, or +2.9 % year-on-year. ČNB said the figures confirmed that price pressures were weak in the economy and its interest rate cut in February was correct. Strong competitive environment, oil price stabilization, appreciation of CZK to EUR and calming on the retail food market were quoted by central bankers among decisive factors for a slow CPI growth.

- Registered unemployment rate shrank from 9.0 % in February to 8.7 % in March. A year ago the rate was as high as 9.5 %. There are about 450t registered unemployed in the Czech Republic now, but only 1/3 of them take unemployment benefits. The remaining 2/3 are recipients of another form of state financial assistance. In March 2000, the ratio of those qualifying for unemployment benefits was significantly higher, about 40 %. Good news is a growing number of job vacancies registered at labor offices: the offices offered about 55t jobs in March this year, by 1/3 more than a year ago. Regional differences in unemployment rate persevere: Northern Bohemia and Northern Moravia are traditionally facing unemployment rates close to 20 %, while surroundings of Prague show ten times lower rates.

- The Czech government voted against selling minority stakes it holds in two power and two gas distributing firms before the sale of dominant companies in the two sectors. The government is sticking to its original plan to first sell the dominant power producer ČEZ along with majority stakes in six electricity distributors and then separately sell the minority stakes it holds in the remaining two. The two gas firms will be sold in one bundle with the other six distributors and the monopoly gas importer Transgas.

- Czech crown remained flat after the CPI figures were announced on Monday morning, at around 34.57/59 to the euro. CZK has been driven more by EUR/USD movements and direct investment inflows than domestic data in recent months. After the central bank announced its new inflation targets for 2002 and 2005, CZK grew slightly volatile, but traders and analysts saw no large impact from the news. In the evening, CZK was trading at 34.59/62 to EUR from 34.53/56 late on Friday and CZK/USD was at 38.38/40 from 38.36/37 late Friday. Earlier on Monday, the crown ignored data showing a 0.1 percent month-on-month rise in the headline inflation rate in March, slightly above consensus forecast of no change.

- Bonds were also flat following the ČSÚ inflation news, with dealers saying the result was within the range of forecasts. After the ČNB announced its new inflation targets, the longest state 6.95/16 lost 35 basis points to 107.40/70 from 107.75/05 late Friday, yielding 6.17/14 %, while the state 6.75/05 up 13 points to 104.58/88 from 104.45/75, yielding 5.39/31 %.

late April 9 bond yield late April 6
State 6.75/05104.58/885.39/31104.45/75
State 6.95/16107.40/706.17/14107.75/05

(Martin Kupka)

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