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Czech Watch - 23 March 2001

23.3.2001 8:51

The Czech Statistical Office said on Thursday the economy grew 3.1 % in 2000 and posted its first full year of growth in four years. In 2000Q4, GDP showed a 3.9 % growth, driven by a 17.9 % increase in gross capital formation. However, gross fixed capital formation rose just 3.8 %, after +9.1 % in 2000Q3. The remainder of the impressive capital formation growth resulted from a lower seasonal decline in inventories compared to 1999Q4. Final domestic consumption dipped 0.4 % in 2000Q4 after a mere 1.0 % growth in 2000Q3. Government consumption fell 1.4 % and household consumption rose only 0.1 % in 2000Q4. A fall in state spending came as a surprise after predictions it would rise as the fiscal deficit grew in the last months of the year. Also surprising was the modest increase in household demand. Prime Minister M. Zeman claims that unless there are unexpected external factors such as explosive oil price growth, his prognosis of the 2001 GDP growth would be in the range of 3.5-4.0 %. Analysts noted that owing to the slow domestic demand the GDP figures would not modify Czech monetary policy in near future.

On the same day as GDP figures, ČSU also released better-than-expected February foreign trade figures, showing a CZK 8.6bn deficit. Markets expected a CZK 10.1bn gap between imports and exports for the month.

The CNB governing board took no monetary policy decisions on its weekly meeting on Thursday. With regard to the published GDP figures, the central bank Governor Z. Tuma considers positive the fact that the growth is balanced and there are no acute macroeconomic risks. Tuma also said the central bank would continue to watch the public sector fiscal balance, which would pose a risk in the medium term, as well as the structure of the current account deficit boosted by a large trade deficit in 2000. He added the central bank would follow how investment reflects the changes in the economy. The next monthly monetary policy meeting of the central bank is scheduled for March 29.

The Czech privatization agency, the National Property Fund (NPF), received 12 indicative bids for its majority stake in dominant power producer ČEZ. The NPF said the bids were not binding and the number of bidders could change after the tender is officially declared later this year. No names of the interested parties were disclosed.

President Václav Havel signed a law allowing investors in future privatization cases to avoid a mandatory buyout of minority shareholders. Deputies amended the Commercial Code to EU standards last year, eliminating the exemption. The Czech government plans to sell majority stakes in four large companies this year and the Finance Ministry has argued the privatization proceeds would be significantly lower if the investors were required to make bids to minority shareholders when buying state stakes.

The Czech crown hit a 15-week high against EUR after economic data were announced and was further helped by a drop in the euro against the dollar.

Despite the fact of a higher than expected GDP growth, bond prices surprisingly rallied. The principal reason seems to be positive news on the GDP structure, eliminating fears of acute inflationary threats. The benchmark State 6.95/16 rose nearly 160 bps.

late March 22 bond yield late March 21
State 6.75/05103.77/075.64/55103.42/72
State 6.95/16105.28/586.39/35103.70/00

(Martin Kupka)

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