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Czech Watch - 9 February 2001

9.2.2001 9:16

Inflation in January reached 1.9% m-to-m, which pushed the y-to-y index to 4.2% (from 4.0% in December 2000). Net inflation, targeted by the central bank, reached 0.6% m-to-m and remained unchanged at 3.0% y-to-y, right in the middle of the central bank target of 2-4%. Inflation numbers are in line with our forecasts and do not change the inflation outlook dramatically: CPI should hover in a close range of 4.0-4.3% throughout the year and the net inflation should first fall during the spring to approx. 2.7% only to rebound back to 3% by the end of 2001. Thus, no reaction from the central bank is required or expected.

Unemployment rose by 0.3 percentage points to 9.1% in January, exactly in line with our forecast. The rise is mostly a seasonal effect, as the Christmas season that brought temporary jobs, ended and does not reflect a substantial change on the Czech labor market. We keep forecasting that the unemployment rate will subside to just above 8% during the spring, and rebound back to approx. 8.6% by the end of 2001.

A majority of European Union citizens support the bloc's plans to admit up to a dozen new members, mostly from ex-communist central and eastern Europe, a poll showed on Thursday. The Eurobarometer survey, conducted twice yearly by the European Commission, showed 44 percent of EU citizens polled said the Union "should be enlarged and include new countries", with 35 percent against. But support was lowest in the three largest EU states, Germany, France and Britain, and also in Austria. Many Germans and Austrians, in particular, fear a big influx of workers from nearby Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and other candidate countries after enlargement.

The Czech privatisation agency (NPF) said on Thursday that binding bids for a majority stake in telecoms group Ceske Radiokomunikace are due by March 12 from the four interested parties it has short-listed. The NPF said in a statement it would allow the bidders to extend the allotted time for analysing the company but added it would keep to the original set deadline of March 31 for proposing a winner of the tender to the government.

The Czech koruna hit its strongest level in over two months against the euro on Thursday bolstered by higher-than-expected CPI data that put an end to discussions about a rate cut. Late on Thursday the koruna was at 34.57/60 to the euro, after closing at 34.67/69 late on Wednesday. The koruna/dollar eased to 37.63/66 from the morning's 37.31/34 and 37.11/14 late Wednesday. During the session the koruna strengthened to as high as 34.54 on the bid side. The euro fell to a week long low of 0.915 against the dollar for the second day in a row on Thursday.

Bond prices fell on the CPI news. The state 6.40/10 bond fell 50 points from late Wednesday to 98.15/45, yielding 6.67/63 percent. The state 6.75/05 fell 20 basis points to 102.45/75, yielding 6.04/5.96 percent. The recently auctioned state 6.95/16 dropped 50 points to 102.10/40, yielding 6.72/69 percent.

(David Marek)

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