Ferry operators call for 25-percent increase Coastal shipping firms have asked the Merchant Marine Ministry to endorse a 25-percent increase in fares, claiming continuously rising operating costs, sources said yesterday. The ministry is said to be looking into cost factors and is likely to recommend a 15-percent rise in two installments, one in March and the other in June. Companies claim that fares have risen only 7 percent in the last four years, while operating costs have rocketed. They also say coastal shipping fares are the lowest compared to other means of transport and that a 25-percent rise would only mean a 0.029-percent increase in the cost of living index. They further argue that fare increases could be graded among the new high-speed vessels, other newly built conventional ferries and the older ones. The sector as a whole has a high debt burden and has been badly hit in the stock market in the last two years. Deadline for 23-percent bid for ELPE extended State-owned refinery group Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE) said yesterday it is extending to March the deadline for binding offers for a 23-percent stake by prospective strategic investors. The extension is said to be related to recent changes in management and to a reconsideration by the newcomers of the selection criteria for the strategic investor, putting equal weight on growth prospects and on the price offered, which was favored by the group’s previous chairman, Eleftherios Tzellas. He has been replaced by Giorgos Moraitis, a former minister. Three candidates, the Lukoil – Latsis group consortium, Yukos, and OMV have submitted non-binding bids for ELPE. Telepizza ends deal with Goody’s Spanish pizza group Telepizza has called off its joint venture with Greek firm Goody’s and closed operations in Britain and Morocco, as part of its retreat from markets where it has failed to make a mark. In a note sent to Spain’s securities regulators late on Friday, Telepizza said the venture in Greece was called off as part of the group’s plan to focus its foreign strategy on more profitable areas. Telepizza announced last year that it was making a major policy change, concentrating on expanding its outlets via franchises, rather than owning the properties themselves. (Reuters) Fitch assigns Cyprus A+ rating International agency Fitch Ratings said yesterday it had rated Cyprus A+ for its long-term external debt, and F1 on its short-term debt. It also assigned a long-term local currency rating of AA. The outlook for all the ratings is stable. Fitch said Cyprus benefits from a dynamic market economy, where per capital income is higher than in Greece, Portugal or Spain.(Reuters) Info-Quest – Samsung Information technology group Info-Quest has agreed with Euroelectronics, a member of the Fourlis group and Samsung’s exclusive representative, to distribute the Korean manufacturer’s computer screens in Greece. It said the risk profile for the sector could go up, especially for banks without the credit-vetting skills or the appropriate information systems. The absence of a centralized credit bureau in Greece is also a disadvantage.