ECONOMY

In Brief

Imports outpace rising exports in Q1, taking trade deficit higher Greek exports posted a 7.1 percent yearly increase in the year’s first quarter, more than twice last year’s pace of 3.2 percent, but the country’s trade deficit grew further by 5.7 percent as imports also posted a rise, provisional National Statistics Service data, as processed by the Panhellenic Exporters’ Association, showed. Exports’ total value reached 3.009 billion euros in January-March 2005 from 2.810 billion euros for the same period in 2004. Imports, however, reached 10.901 million euros this year from 10.274 billion euros in 2004, widening the trade deficit to 7.892 billion euros from 7.464 billion euros in last year’s Q1. Exports were led higher by agricultural products and fuel, with the former ending their decline of recent years. Industrial exports maintained the highest share of total exports (62.8 percent). Drug companies lost some of their pace last year Pharmaceutical companies’ growth is slowing, hurt by debts from hospitals and social security funds, a Hellastat report has shown. The drug-producing and distributing firms’ revenues rose by 14 percent in 2004, against an average 16 percent annual rise in the 2001-2004 period. Last year profits rose by 28.8 percent, against an average increase of 39.5 percent over the previous four years. The sector’s enterprises showed lower operating profit margins, at 6.6 percent last year from 7 percent in 2003, due to the increase in costs. Concentration in the sector has remained high in the last four years, with the 20 biggest companies holding a market share of up to 78 percent. Of those 20, the few Greek companies total a 16.3 percent share in sales, down from 18.5 percent in 2001. Water market flows well The bottled water sector continues its rapid expansion, an ICAP study showed, thanks partly to the trend toward healthy food. Consumers increasingly choose water over other drinks, causing the market to grow by 10 percent on average every year from 1995 to 2004, according to sales figures. Its growth reached 11.3 percent last year despite lower-than-expected tourism. ICAP forecasts the rise will continue in 2005 and 2006, by about 8-10 percent year-on-year. Natural mineral water accounted for 71.2 percent of bottled water consumption, followed by table water (24.3 percent) and sparkling water (4.5 percent). The high degree of concentration by the few companies in the sector results in intense competition. Daedalus sale agreed Listed coastal shipping company Minoan Lines has agreed to sell its ship Daedalus for 5.5 million euros. The sale and delivery of the vessel will be completed in October. The revenues from the sale will be used exclusively to reduce the company’s bank loans. Albanian road The European Investment Bank has given Albania a 35-million-euro ($42 million) loan, the same amount given by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, to build a highway in the country’s south, the Finance Ministry said. The 25-year loan, with a six-year grace period, will be used to build 35 kilometers (22 miles) of new road and reconstruct 33 kilometers (21 miles) of an existing road between Fier and Tepelena in the south, the ministry said. The total cost is set at 85.7 million euros. (AP)