Weekly bulletin – May 18

Greece’s hopes of welcoming tourists were boosted by the European Commission’s travel and tourism roadmap, as internal travel restrictions are being gradually lifted and airlines have announced summer flights to Greece

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The European Commission’s publication of EU-wide travel guidelines prompts European carriers to announce the re-starting of flights to Greece in the third week of May, an important step in getting Greece’s tourism industry back in business. New measures targeting the reactivation of the economy include the EU-baked SURE programme and a state-backed guarantee fund led by the Hellenic Development Bank. Meanwhile, the privatisation of the Alimos Marina was inked last week for a value of €57.5.

COVID-19 measures

Over the weekend, Greece’s 515 organised beaches were allowed to open for the first time since the onset of the lockdown in March, under limited capacity arrangements. And as of today (Monday), people can travel freely within the Greek mainland, and to the island of Crete.

Restaurants, cafes, and bars will open their doors on May 25, as will shopping malls.

SURE programme

The Eurogroup formally approved the SURE programme, a plan that supports employment generation in the wake of the pandemic. The programme will use €25 billion euros of Member-State guarantees to leverage €100 billion euros of loans from the markets. The funds will be used to help employers retain workers through employment subsidies.

Debt

The head of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), Klaus Regling, has said that borrowing to address healthcare costs and pay for support measures would not make Greek debt unsustainable. Regling added that the composition of Greece’s debt, which is mostly held by the ESM, makes for very favourable servicing terms.

Greece has announced that it does not intend to use its €3.7-billion share of the ESM’s Pandemic Crisis Support credit line at this stage, and is focussing more closely on unlocking funds from the SURE and EIB programmes for near-term relief.

Tourism

The publication of EU-wide guidance on travel and tourism by the European Commission revived hopes that Greece could start welcoming foreign visitors this summer. The Commission’s announcement of a coordinated position on travel recognised the importance of tourism to the European economy, while stressing that it was important for Europeans to return to “unrestricted free movement”, by adopting appropriate protective measures and science-based risk assessments.

The guidance consists of a set of non-binding recommendations, providing Member States with the flexibility to adopt policies depending on their circumstances. However, it is seen as giving a nod to tourism businesses and aspiring travellers to start planning ahead. While there will be no “health passports” or mandatory quarantines at a European level, individual countries will be able to set criteria for the opening of their borders and making bilateral travel agreements according to their circumstances. Guidelines were also provided regarding safety and hygiene measures in transit.

Following the Commission’s announcements, air carriers including Air France, Lufthansa and AEGEAN reported they will re-start flights from European hubs to Athens and other Greek destinations, starting the third week of May.

The government is planning to publish its strategy for tourism within the next few days. Among the measures being discussed are reduced VAT on air travel and restaurants, and support for lost income capped at 60%. All hopes for this year are pinned on August, with Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis setting the bar for this year’s tourism revenues at €8 billion, €10 billion below the 2019 figure.

In order to jumpstart the economy, Greece will include shopping malls in stage 3 as it successfully lifts COVID-19 restrictions. Copyright: TonyV3112 / Shutterstock.com

Hellenic Development Bank

The Hellenic Development bank is ready to activate a state-backed guarantee fund, which will provide working capital to businesses that have been prompt in servicing their obligations, regardless of size or sector. The loan duration will be five years, with a maximum of €3.5 billion in lending to be made available in the first phase of the scheme, and an equal amount in the second phase.

Energy

The final agreements on the Attica-Crete interconnector will be inked by the beginning of June, according to IPTO Vice President Ioannis Margaris. The €1-billion project will be carried out by Ariadne Interconnection, a subsidiary of transmission network manager IPTO, earmarked for completion by June 2023.

Meanwhile, the Greek parliament gave the green light for the ratification of the intergovernmental agreement on the EastMed pipeline project, with all major political parties voting in favour.

Alimos Marina

Aktor Concessions signed a €57.5 million deal for the rights to manage and exploit the Alimos Marina on Athens’s southern coastline, in the first competition of its kind to be carried out by national privatisation fund HRADF via e-auction. Aktor plans to invest €50 million in upgrading the 1,100-berth marina and developing the 210,000 m2 terrestrial zone, which is part of the Athens Riviera.

Stock market

MSCI dropped four Greek stocks from the MSCI Greece Standard index, resulting in a 30% decline in Geek participation in the MSCI Emerging Markets index, as well as the MSCI EMEA index. Eurobank, NBG, Alpha Bank and Titan Cement will now be included in the MSCI Greece Small Cap on the rebalancing date of March 29, with the change expected to lead to net outflows of around $153.6 million from Greek equities.

The ASE General index closed the week -1.78% down, with banking shares racking up –11.84% losses on news of the MSCI rebalancing. Prices, however, rebounded slightly by the end of the week with the index closing at 593.26.

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