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Czech Watch - 23 February 2001

23.2.2001 9:05

At its meeting today, the CNB Bank Board surprisingly decided to cut the limit repo rate by 0.25 percentage points to 5%, the discount rate to 4% and the Lombard rate to 6%. The new interest rates take effect as from February 23. The move also comes after the bank last month lowered its inflation forecast into the lower half of its end-year target, and discussed a cut before unanimously voting to hold rates. The main reason of this decision is a fear of another undershooting of the inflation target. So far, CNB missed all three targets for years 1998, 1999, and 2000.

January 2001 trade deficit amounted to CZK 9.3 billion, which translates into a CZK 5.1 billion rise on January 2000. January 2001 saw imports and exports at current prices rise at rates similar to those in January 2000: by 35.3% and 30.5% year-on-year, respectively. The trade deficit was recorded mainly for raw materials, semi-finished products and chemical products (CZK 12.3 billion), of which mineral fuels accounted for CZK 9.1 billion, as well as for agricultural products and food (CZK 1,8 billion). This year we expect that the main driving factors would be an acceleration of the domestic demand and a slowdown of the economic growth in Western Europe. A potential risk could stem from oil prices development. We forecast the whole year trade deficit at CZK 140 billion.

NATO Secretary General George Robertson said today that the Czech army must be quickly reduced, be more mobile and thus more efficient.

Talking to journalists after a meeting with Premier Milos Zeman, the last point on the agenda of his two-day visit to Prague, Robertson said that the army needed to undergo various changes, which would go more to the depth.

He said that his talks in the Czech Republic did not concentrate on a sole point, such as for instance the planned purchase of supersonic aircraft for the army.

Robertson repeated that a decision on this point was up to the Czech government and nation who would be responsible for it. NATO does not offer any recommendation whether to buy or not to buy the planes, he said.

The Czech koruna closed Thursday's rocky session slightly weakened by a surprise cut in the central bank's (CNB) key two-week repo rate and comments by CNB board members that intervention remains an option. The koruna fell to 34.76 to the euro just after the announcement from 34.67 ahead of it. By the end of the session it was holding steady at 34.725/765, even with its open. Koruna/dollar was at 38.399/429 from 38.074/104 at the open and from 38.263/293 late Wednesday.

Bonds, however, rose strongly on the news, with four year state paper rising some 45 basis points to 102.85/103.15 and 10 year bonds up 60-70 basis points at 99.10/99.40.

(David Marek)

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