ECB to delay launch of new eurozone payments system FRANKFURT (Reuters) – The European Central Bank announced yesterday it will delay the launch of its new Target2 eurozone payments platform, from the originally planned January 2007 start to the second half of that year. «This timetable will ensure that all comments made by the various players are taken into account and that banks have enough time to prepare for the testing of Target2,» the bank said, adding that all consultations had been concluded. Target2 will replace the current decentralized system used by national central banks to settle large-value payments with a single system run by the central banks of Germany, France and Italy. It promises to be cheaper and more reliable. The current Target, which stands for Trans-European Automated Real-time Gross Settlement Express Transfer, handles an average 1.7 trillion euros ($2,063 billion) a day in payments. Eurozone countries will join the new system in groups and the ECB said in a February progress report on Target2 that the adoption of the system would start in January 2007 with the aim of having all countries on board within 12 months. PPC pretax earnings down in Q1 as sales record only marginal rise The Public Power Corporation (PPC) saw its pretax profits slide by 5.9 percent in the January-March 2005 period to 175.4 million euros, compared with 186.3 million euros after last year’s first quarter, despite the rise in revenues by 3.5 percent and the drop in investment expenditure by 8 percent. Operating profits also fell by 11.5 percent while earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) declined by 10.5 percent. Net profits rose by just 0.3 percent. PPC’s management attributes the decline in earnings to the marginal rise in sales and external factors such as the 19.5 million euros spent to purchase the rights for carbon dioxide missions and the rise in fuel prices. Still, PPC’s debts dropped by 4.7 percent to 177.7 million euros and its participation in affiliated companies’ losses declined by 15.6 percent, as Tellas saw its losses cut by 0.5 million euros. Bulgarian highway Bulgaria invited investors yesterday to bid for a 148.5 million euro ($180.2 million) highway deal, aimed at easing Sofia’s traffic and improving the journey to its southern neighbor Greece. The Construction Ministry said firms from the European Union, Turkey and neighboring Balkan states could place offers to build the 19km stretch by Oct. 11. The European Commission approved the project last week and agreed the high price per kilometer – 7.8 million euros – due to the many tunnels and junctions that have to be built. The long-delayed highway will be financed by a 111.4-million-euro grant from EU preaccession funds and Bulgaria’s budget. (Reuters) Cavo Sidero Britain’s Loyalward Group is changing its name to Minoan Group, reflecting its commitment to its project in northeastern Crete, after agreements recently about the tourism investment of 1.2 billion euros. The «Cavo Sidero» year-round resort, will include 7,000 beds distributed in five tourism villages, three golf courses and facilities for water sports, shooting, tennis, conferences and arts and entertainment. Despite previous delays, the project is now on course to begin construction in early 2006, after intense government interest of late.