Inflation rebounds from February lows, still above eurozone average Consumer inflation accelerated to 2.7 percent year-on-year in March from a more than two-year low of 2.5 percent in February, according to data from the National Statistics Service (NSS). The rate was more than one percentage point above the eurozone average. Prices rose by 2.5 percent month-on-month after a 0.3 percent drop in February. The EU-harmonized consumer price inflation rate rose to 2.9 percent year-on-year in March from 2.6 percent in February. The Bank of Greece has forecast an average EU-harmonized inflation rate of 3.4 percent this year, unchanged from 2003. Among the highest price increases in the consumer basket measured by the NSS were alcoholic beverages and tobacco, up 7.2 percent year-on-year, and education and healthcare costs, up 4.4 and 4.5 percent respectively. Consumer loans buck trend of deceleration in credit expansion Credit continued to expand in January, albeit at slower rates compared to December, except for consumer loans, whose growth accelerated, according to the Bank of Greece. On a 12-month basis, total credit expanded 16.4 percent in January, against 17 percent in the previous month. The total debt of households and enterprises came to 102.75 billion euros, of which 61.94 billion was accounted for by enterprises. Total consumer credit grew at a 12-month rate of 28.4 percent in January, against 27.2 percent in December, and total consumer debt came to 12.69 billion euros. Half of this was accounted for by credit cards. Mortgages grew at 24.6 percent against 25 percent in December and 34.8 percent in January 2003, though Bank of Greece governor Nicholas Garganas recently warned that many households may face repayment difficulties given that seven out of 10 such loans carry variable interest rates. Total deposits fell to 115 billion euros from 115.75 billion in December. Repo placements continued to decline. Inspections Facing dwindling revenues, the Finance Ministry has instructed the Financial Crimes Squad, which it has said it will abolish, to intensify inspections of goods distribution, particularly farm products. Inspections of firms will only be conducted if further certification is required, while accounting books will inspected by order of public prosecutors. Checks on entertainment and catering establishments will be intensified. Exports Greek exports grew 7.2 percent in the January-November 2003 period, year-on-year, according to a study by the Association of Exporters of Northern Greece, or SEVE (available at www.seve.gr/docs/stat.pdf). S&B S&B Industrial Minerals has acquired 100 percent of Germany’s Stollberg group – owned by Degussa AG – a global market leader in the production of casting fluxes for the steel industry, for 43.8 million euros.