Off the wire

  • 2000-08-24
GRACE PERIOD: Payments by some cards have been disrupted in Lithuania after the Europay satellite network, which services payment cards, was struck by lightning in a storm in Belgium on Aug. 19. Snoras, Vilniaus Bankas, savings bank Taupomasis Bankas and agriculture bank Zemes Ukio Bankas were not processing payments made with EuroCard, MasterCard and Maestro cards as of noon Aug. 21. A team of specialists was on the way from Belgium to correct the problem.

DROPPING DEBT: The Latvian national debt at the end of July amounted to 572.4 million lats ($936.8 million), down about 7.8 million lats from the end of June, according to information from the State Treasury. Late in 1999, the national debt amounted to 510.7 million lats, down by 61.7 million lats from the end of July 1999. The foreign debt late in July was 351.2 million lats, down 0.65 million lats from the end of June. From this, 226 million lats were loans and 125.2 million lats were eurobonds issued by Latvia. The domestic debt meanwhile was 221.2 million lats late in July, 7.13 million less than at the end of June. The domestic debt comes from sale of treasury bills and government bonds.

VODKA: Lithuania's largest vodka producer, Stumbras, announced a net profit of 9.05 million litas ($2.26 million) for the first half of 2000, up from 2.71 million litas in the same period last year. The company's January-June sales totalled 52.3 million litas this year, up from 29.6 million litas in the respective period last year. Stumbras managing director Jonas Zukauskas said the first-half results were largely due to sharp cuts in excise duties on strong alcoholic beverages last autumn, and improved marketing activities. Stumbras is planning to offer mineral water in the near future, with two more new products due by the end of this year. Also, the company's managers are planning to launch the production of biofuel in a year's time, with at least 6 million litas earmarked for initial investments.

GAS GROWS: Natural gas sales prices could grow by 5 percent to 7 percent in Latvia as of 2001, Latvijas Gaze spokeswoman Sandra Adamsone said. Under the agreement between LG and Russian gas company Gazprom on natural gas supplies to Latvia from 2000 to 2005, the natural gas purchase price is pegged to the average price of fuel oil on Europe's oil bourses. In regard to the high price of fuel oil on Europe's oil bourses, LG has informed its biggest customers the natural gas prices may be raised as of 2001 provided that fuel oil price remains high.

WAGES RISE: Average gross wages in Estonia were 5,031 kroons ($294) a month in the second quarter of this year, a year-on-year rise of 10.5 percent, the Statistics Department reports. The wages averaged 4,628 kroons in April, 4,974 kroons in May and 5,548 kroons in June. Pay was the highest in financial intermediation at 2.2 times the national average. Compared with the second quarter of last year, monthly wages in this sphere showed a rise of 9.3 percent. Gross monthly wages were the lowest in agriculture and hunting, forming 55.7 percent of the average but up by 16.6 percent from the second quarter of 1999.

HOT TOBACCO: Judging by market research and lower than expected intake of excise tax, the share of black-market tobacco sales in Estonia can be estimated at roughly 30 percent, which strips the state of 150 million kroon ($8.67 million) revenues annually. According to Finance Ministry data, the state budget received roughly 235 million kroons in the tobacco excise tax in January through July, or only 31.4 percent of the target for the whole year.

OFF TO MINSK: Estonia's aviation company Eesti Lennukompanii will launch flights to Minsk and Warsaw this fall. The routes will be served by a Jetstream 31, which seats 18 passengers. The route to Minsk will be opened on Aug. 29, with three weekly flights to the capital of Belarus, ELK marketing director Edgar Luts told BNS. In mid-September, the recently-acquired Jetstream 31 will start making two weekly flights to Warsaw, Luts said. In mid-July, Estonian Air, which operates with Fokkers and Boeings, decided to take its Fokker 50 off Minsk flights as of Aug. 28 and add it to the Stockholm route where demand is higher.

BANK LAYOFFS: The upcoming privatization of state-owned banks in Lithuania will lead to large numbers of layoffs in the banking sector, with up to 2,000 people likely to join the ranks of the unemployed within a short period of time, the press reported on Aug. 21. Following the collapse of Litimpeks, a commercial bank, and the takeover of Hermis by Vilniaus Bankas, layoffs in state-owned banks began as part of the restructuring process, according to the daily Lietuvos Rytas.