Big retailers call for overhaul of working hours at national level Supermarket chains and department stores have called for an extension of business hours in view of the Olympic Games of 2004, complaining that investment and employment in the sector had fallen in recent years due to interference by government. Antonis Makris, chairman of the Association of Retail Enterprises of Greece (SELPE), said the employment growth rate in the sector had fallen from 30 percent in previous years to 8 percent last year. «Retail commerce is an important parameter in the organization of the 2004 Games and has to be informed about the government’s decisions that affect it directly or indirectly, and needs to participate in the decision-making process,» he said. He called for «national» business hours and for a solution as regards hours for stores operating in entertainment complexes, which are restricted and thus less attractive to the construction sector. Karatzas notes favorable prospects for Greek banking The Greek banking sector has large potential for growth, as lending to households amounts to only 18 percent of available income, compared to 60 percent in Europe and 100 percent in the USA, National Bank of Greece Governor Theodoros Karatzas said in an address to the British-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce yesterday. «For companies trading in the stock market, the relationship of debts to the current value of shares is 20 percent, in comparison to 35 percent in Europe. Companies not trading in the stock market participate in bank lending even less… Greek banks have entered a new phase of activity and profitability within the EMU framework. In essence, it obliges us to overrule the concept of easy and mass profitability created by stock market concurrence. Already, the profit structure is improving visibly,» said Karatzas. Separately, the Bank of Greece said yesterday that the debt of Greek households for personal, consumer and credit card loans reached record levels in March, standing 36.1 percent higher than a year earlier at 8.13 billion euros. Credit expansion Greek credit expansion slowed provisionally to 14.4 percent year-on-year in March from 15.3 percent in February, the Bank of Greece said yesterday. Credit expansion to businesses and households also slowed to a provisional 21.6 percent year-on-year from 23.8 percent in February. Credit expansion to the general government grew at a 9.6-percent rate versus 9.9 percent in February. (Reuters) World’s best The International Olive Oil Council, a UN agency based in Madrid, has given the Mario Solinas golden award for the «World’s Best Olive Oil» in 2002 to the extra virgin olive oil produced and marketed by the Union of Agricultural Cooperatives in Siteia, Crete. The prized variety was produced in 44 tons. Gas pipeline An official from Turkish state pipeline concern Botas said yesterday that work to lay the pipes for the second of two lines to bring gas from Russia to Turkey through the Black Sea had been completed. «The second pipeline has been laid. It’s up to the Russian side whether there will a delay in the start of gas flow,» an official told Reuters. The pipeline will run 1,200 km from Izobilnoye near Krasnodar in southern Russia to Turkey’s capital of Ankara. (Reuters) For Romtelecom, he said the company is willing to inject $200 million into the Romanian fixed-line operator in return for an additional 16-percent stake which would give it a controlling 51-percent share. The Romanian government last month rejected the option, offering instead its entire stake. Antonakopoulos said OTE is reviewing several alternatives including withdrawing from Romtelecom should the government stick to its guns.