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Czech Watch - 31 January 2001

31.1.2001 9:17

A senior Czech official, on a mission to secure the release of two prominent Czechs jailed in Cuba after meeting anti-Castro dissidents, visited the pair Tuesday in a Havana state security prison. Senate President Petr Pithart's visit to the Villa Marista detention center came on the same day he began meeting Cuban authorities in an effort to break the diplomatic deadlock over the dispute between the two Soviet-era allies. Pithart, who arrived on the communist-ruled Caribbean island Monday night, held a long meeting early Tuesday with a Cuban parliament delegation to discuss the fate of ex-finance minister and current legislator Ivan Pilip and former student leader Jan Bubenik, both detained in Cuba since Jan. 12.

Czech business and consumer confidence grew in January to their highest levels in the past quarter, the Czech Statistical Bureau (CSU) said on Tuesday. The CSU said industrial companies which account for 56 percent of total industrial sales in the country, considered their overall economic position to be good, while a further 40 percent said it was satisfactory. It said 24 percent expected an improvement in the upcoming six months, and 71 percent said they expected no change. The CSU said the confidence index for industry -- measuring the balance of companies' positive and negative outlooks for overall demand and output minus inventory levels -- grew to 11 points from eight at the end of the last year. The construction confidence index, which measures expected demand and forecasts for development of employment, grew to -15 from -17 at the end of the last year, the best result in the past 12 months. Consumer confidence, based on data on from surveys by a public opinion firm, improved to -6 points from -13 in December, also the best result in the past 12 months.

The Czech koruna broke through the 34.75 barrier against the euro hitting an eight-week high of 34.61 before retreating in a volatile market looking for news on how privatisation funds will flow into the country. Late on Tuesday the crown was trading at 34.74/76 to the euro, down from the morning's 34.64/67, but firming from 34.75/78 late Monday. Koruna/dollar firmed to 37.60/64 from 37.85/89 in the morning and 37.82/85 late Monday. The market is waiting to see how funds from the sale of utilities such as water firm PVK and Ceske Radiokomunikace will enter the market or if the central bank will direct them to a special account.

The state 6.40/10 up 50 points from late Monday at 98.95/25, yielding 6.55/51 percent. The state 6.75/05 up 50 points at 102.55/85, yielding 6.03/5.93 percent.

(David Marek)

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