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Czech Watch - 6 February 2001

6.2.2001 9:13

Two prominent Czechs, Ivan Pilip and Jan Bubenik, jailed in Cuba after seeing anti-Castro dissidents, were on their way home Monday night after a public confession earned their release in a case further souring ties between the one-time Socialist allies. In the confession, the pair acknowledged travelling to Cuba in collaboration with U.S.-based Freedom House, known for its opposition to Castro's government.

The Czech central bank (CNB) will release the minutes from its January 25 monetary policy meeting on Tuesday and include for the first time a breakdown of how its board voted to act on interest rates. At the policy setting meeting last Thursday, the CNB left the key two week repurchase rate unchanged at 5.25 percent and its discount rate at 5.0 percent, but cut its year-end net inflation forecast to 2.5 percent from 2.8 percent. With signs of growth slowly taking root, Prime Minister Milos Zeman has turned up the heat in recent weeks, several times stating he would like to see a 50 point cut in the CNB's main rates as soon as possible.

The Czech Finance Ministry, Pavel Mertlik, said on Monday it would prefer to sell the state's majority stake in Komercni Banka to a bank that will bring new industrial investors to the country. Mertlik's comments appeared to be a thinly-veiled reference to recent speculation that one of the bidders, Hypovereinsbank could be the top choice if it can help lure German car maker BMW to the Czech Republic to build a new plant. BMW is said to be considering several sites for a EUR 500 million assembly plant, including the Czech Republic. A decision by BMW is expected by the middle of this year, while the Komercni sale is scheduled for April or May. The list of bidders for Komercni also includes Italy's Unicredito and two French banks Societe Generale and Credit Agricole.

The Czech koruna stayed in a range of 34.76-90 to the euro on Monday in quiet, low volume trading ahead of the release of the minutes from last week's central bank monetary policy meeting. Late on Monday the koruna was trading up at 34.78/80 to the euro from the morning's 34.82/85 and from 34.77/80 late Friday. The koruna/dollar was trading at 37.06/09 from 36.97/00 in the morning and 37.26/29 late Friday.

The state 6.40/10 was up five basis points from late Friday at 98.90/20, yielding 6.56/51 percent. The state 6.75/05 flat at 102.90/20, yielding 5.92/83 percent.

(David Marek)

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