In Brief

S&P cautious on Greek plan to cut budget deficit S&P Ratings said yesterday Greece’s goal to shrink its budget deficit below the European Union’s 3 percent cap next year was too challenging to merit an upgrade. «The measures included in (Greece’s) 2006 budget do not of themselves provide an immediate boost to the sovereign credit ratings,» the rating agency said. S&P downgraded Greece to «A» from «A+» last November. The government is scrambling to cut the fiscal gap from 6.6 percent in 2004. But to plug the hole, the government will rely on securitization this and next year – issuing government paper against still-uncollected taxes – provided the EU’s statistics agency gives its blessing. S&P sees this as a short-term solution. «The government continues to have recourse to one-off budgetary measures, equivalent to at least 1 percent of GDP in 2005, which have the net effect of reducing fiscal flexibility in the medium to long term,» said S&P’s credit analyst Trevor Cullinan. Bulgaria short-lists bidders for Danube bridge SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria has short-listed six European consortiums to compete for construction of a new 236-million-euro ($281.9 million) Danube River bridge, the Transport Ministry said yesterday. The 2-kilometer (1.3-mile) bridge, to be built not far from the border with Serbia, will connect Bulgaria’s Vidin with the town of Calafat in Romania, by 2009. «The short list for the designing and construction of the Danube River bridge has been approved by the European Commission. We plan to sign a contract with the winner by the middle of 2006,» the ministry said in a statement. The long-delayed project is funded by grants and loans from European Union preaccession funds and the European Investment Bank, French and German credit institutions and the Bulgarian state budget. Cheapest in Europe Greece enjoyed the lowest gasoline prices in the eurozone last month, according to the International Tourism Association (AIT) and the European Road Information Center (ERIC). Unleaded gasoline in Greece averaged 1.02 euros per liter, ahead of Spain and Luxembourg (1.12 euros/l). Most expensive was Finland at 1.47 euros/l. The Greek price for diesel was the third-cheapest in the eurozone, at 0.99 euros/l on average, behind Luxembourg (0.90 euros/l) and Spain (0.98 euros/l). Babis Vovos Hellenic Exchanges, the holding company that owns the Athens stock and futures bourses, said it has awarded a contract to real estate firm Babis Vovos to build its new office building, due for completion in March 2007. The contract’s value was not disclosed. New Makro store Makro Cash & Carry Hellas tomorrow is opening its seventh outlet in Greece, the second in Thessaloniki. The new store cost 8.5 million euros and will employ 120, serving food and catering firms.