The scheduled introduction of the euro on January 1 will intensify instances of speculative pricing which are already happening, the Consumers Institute (INKA) warned yesterday. According to INKA, consumer prices have been found to vary as much as 55 percent between shops and 87 percent between towns. Seventeen percent of respondents to a survey stated they have an elementary knowledge of prices, while 33 percent believe they are adequately informed about price differentials. Only 16 percent are happy about general price levels. INKA notes that, however belatedly, consumers have started taking a strong interest in the euro, as testified by a growing number of visitors to its info centers and more frequent calls to telephone number 1721. Meanwhile, the Hellenic Bank Association yesterday advised credit card holders to prefer using their cards for payment in euros, particularly in the first two months of 2002, in order to avoid mistakes and delays, but to check carefully the amounts entered before signing receipts. It also said in a press release that cents will appear correctly on receipts, even though shop assistants will not have to enter the decimal point on the machine. On Wednesday, the government said it will do its utmost to ensure a smooth introduction of the common currency and that there will be no price increases as a result. No consumer must accept either covert or overt price rises, said Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis. Presenting ELPE’s nine-month results, he said sharply depressed profit margins in the Mediterranean and lower margins for petrochemical products had flattened consolidated EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) which plunged to 66.4 billion drachmas from 104.5 billion drachmas in the same period in 2000. The figures were calculated according to International Accounting Standards.