ECONOMY

Rise in fuel prices beginning to have adverse effect on inflation

The government is worried about constantly rising fuel prices and the inflationary pressures they generate. According to sources, the first effects of higher fuel prices are already evident in April’s Consumer Price Index, which has risen by 2.9 percent year-on-year, up from 2.7 percent in March. (The National Statistics Service has not yet released the official figure, but a government minister has confirmed the number and added that were it not for a drop in the price of fruit and vegetables, the annual pace of inflation would have exceeded 3 percent in April.) What especially worries the government is the effect of higher fuel prices – which rose for a second month in a row – on consumer goods and services. The Development Ministry appears uncertain about what to do to intervene, since the market inspections it has been conducting since last week have failed to stem the price rises. The newly elected conservative government has declared itself against «repressive mechanisms» such as the imposition of a price ceiling. Current law permits the imposition of such measures. (Yesterday, deputies of the formerly ruling Socialist party, including several former ministers, tabled a question in Parliament accusing the government of not doing all it could to combat excessive pricing of gasoline and other oil products. While conceding that part of the problem lies with high global oil prices, they said that the government’s opposition to price-fixing had only encouraged rogue traders to increase prices significantly.) Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas yesterday sent a letter to Parliament Speaker Anna Psarouda-Benaki asking her to convene the Standing Committee on Production and Trade, in order to brief it about the situation in the fuel market. In practice, this would mean interminable discussion with no concrete results where these are needed most urgently, that is, in keeping prices steady and avoiding inflationary pressures. Taking a defensive stance, Deputy Development Minister Giorgos Salagoudis yesterday published a series of data revealing that Greece has the lowest gasoline prices in Europe, which is true, but of little value concerning the effects of higher prices on Greece’s consumer price index, which is almost double the eurozone average. This week, gasoline prices climbed to new highs, as the average price of unleaded fuel was at 80.5 cents per liter and that of leaded fuel 85.3 cents per liter. Both prices rose by about a cent over the previous week. Diesel fuel was sold for 70.7 cents per liter. Market insiders say that actual prices are about 1.5 cents higher than the official ones. Dimitris Makryveios, president of the Association of Gas Station Owners, predicts that prices will rise tomorrow by at least another 1.5 cents, adding that fuel traders had increased the wholesale price by that amount. There is also a problem with the provision of cheap diesel fuel to farmers. The circular allowing for the distribution of diesel fuel with a reduced special consumption tax – similar to the provisions regarding heating oil – after April 30 has not been signed yet, and fuel traders dare not supply farmers because they fear being wrongly accused of illicit trading. As a result of market inspections, the Development Ministry’s inspection body (KEDAK) announced yesterday that it had filed charges against two gas station owners for obstructing inspections.