ECONOMY

Greek 2012 budget gap slightly wider than estimated

Greece’s headline budget deficit last year was slightly bigger than initially thought but still beat the government’s target, statistics service ELSTAT said on Friday.

The deficit excluding state support to the banking sector was 6.2 percent of national output (GDP) rather than the 6 percent earlier calculated, it said.

That figure came in below a government target of 6.6 percent and was well down on the 9.5 percent of GDP registered in 2011.

The narrowing gap was in keeping with signs that Greece’s 183 billion euro economy, in its sixth year of recession and expected to contract by 4.0 percent this year, may be emerging from five years of debt-driven decline.

Greece posted a central government surplus excluding debt servicing in the first nine months of the year, putting it on track to hit targets that open the way for debt relief from its lenders, including the International Monetary Fund.

Earlier this week, IMF forecasts backed the government’s prediction of a return to economic growth next year. The country’s 2014 draft budget sees a 0.6 percent expansion.

Including the impact of state support to banks, last year’s budget deficit was 9.0 percent of GDP, ELSTAT said, revising a preliminary estimate of 10.0 percent submitted to the European Union’s statistics agency in April.

ELSTAT said state support to banks added 2.8 percentage points or 5.49 billion euros to the fiscal hole last year, as a state bank rescue fund – the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund – covered the cost of winding down non-viable banks.

Greece’s international lenders have set aside 50 billion euros from the country’s bailout package to recapitalise its viable banks and cover the closure of others.

The statistics agency said last year’s primary budget deficit excluding debt interest payments reached 4.0 percent of GDP, revising down a previous 5.0 percent estimate.

Athens is aiming for a primary budget surplus of 0.2 percent of GDP this year, in hopes of further debt relief by its international lenders.

ELSTAT did not revise last year’s public debt figures, which showed that debt fell to 303.9 billion euros or 156.9 percent of GDP from 170.3 percent in 2011.

[Reuters]