Greek firms improve credit rating, bankruptcies fall Greek industrial, commercial and, especially service firms considerably improved their credit rating in the 1998-2002 period, according to a study by business research and consultancy firm ICAP, presented yesterday. The number of firms whose credit rating improved was 16.1 percent higher than those that were downgraded. About three in four firms, classified in the three credit risk areas (high, medium and low) remained there a year later. The study included 20,936 firms. Also, the percentage of firms not meeting their loan obligations or going bankrupt declined by an annual average of 8.3 percent over the period studied. The average annual chance of bankruptcy is 4.4/1000 in commerce, 3.4/1000 in industry and 1.6/1000 in services. In another study, ICAP said 330 companies, or one-fifth of those recorded in its first Greek Economic Directory of 1963, managed to survive up to 2002, recording their fastest growth in investment up to 1973. Economic upheavals during this period caused a shrinking of the manufacturing sector and the growth of the services sector. The oldest Greek company is food manufacturer Allatini, founded in 1836. Three banks figure among the 25 oldest Greek companies, National Bank (1841), Alpha Bank (1879, founded as Commercial Credit Bank) and Emporiki (1907). Tax officials urge maintenance of book inspections proper, SDOE The union of tax officials yesterday called on the government not to extend the measure of «blanket sum» tax settlement for uninspected past fiscal years to firms with annual turnover higher than 1 million euros. It argued the extension would create a widespread feeling of a complete absence and ineffectuality of tax regulations, with negative repercussions on public revenue. It also called on the government to postpone plans to abolish the Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE), so as to at least ensure an estimated 500 million euros in additional taxes in this Olympic year. The minimum tax-free annual income should be raised to 12,000 euros. CCHBC bond buyback Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company said yesterday it would offer to buy back its 5.25 percent euro-denominated notes due in 2006 and that it intended to issue new euro-denominated bonds. The company said in a statement it would offer to buy back the 2006 bonds, of which there are 555 million euros outstanding, at a price giving a yield equal to the two-year mid-swap rate. Credit Suisse First Boston is managing the tender offer. (Reuters) Ship sale New York-listed shipping corporation OMI yesterday gave notice of an agreement to buy four newly built Suezmax vessels and eight more currently under construction, belonging to Athenian Sea Carriers (ASC), for $585 million. According to market sources, Minos Kyriakou, owner of ASC and TV channel Antenna, will make an estimated $200 million from the sale. OMI officials said the purchase will reduce the average age of the corporation’s fleet from 6.6 years to 4.8. Euro 2004 The Hellenic Association of Tourism and Travel Agents (HATTA) denied allegations of profiteering in packages for soccer fans traveling to Lisbon to watch Greece’s quarterfinal tie with France for Euro 2004 on Friday. HATTA said a day round trip costs 550 euros and the profit for travel agents is marginal.