Fresh EU doubts over deficit data

The European Commission has left open the possibility of revising higher Greece’s budget deficit figures and indicated that it may take legal measures against the country for providing unreliable statistical information. The Commission said in a report that the EU’s statistics office Eurostat could not validate the latest deficit and debt figures that Greece sent in October 2009 regarding 2008 and earlier data. «Where the… notification of 21 October 2009 is concerned, the data have not been validated by Eurostat and a substantial number of unanswered questions and pending issues still remain in some key areas, such as social security funds, hospital arrears, and transactions between government and public enterprises,» said the Commission report. «These questions will need to be resolved, and it cannot be excluded that this will lead to further revisions of Greek government deficit and debt data particularly for 2008, but possibly also for previous years,» the report said. The Commission prepared the report at the request of EU finance ministers after the ruling Socialists revised the 2008 budget deficit to 7.7 percent of gross domestic product from 5 percent reported in April. Greek stocks and bonds tumbled after news of the «severe irregularities» in the nation’s statistical data. The Athens bourse’s benchmark general index fell 5 percent, the biggest decline since December 8, when Fitch Ratings cut the country’s credit rating over its budget shortfall and rising debt. Bond declines drove the yield on Greece’s 10-year note 15 basis points higher to around 232 bps. In comments to the German daily Handelsblatt, Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou said yesterday that Greece had no more «skeletons in the closet» and the country had a solid basis for cutting its deficit. «We have no more skeletons in the closet… we now have a solid basis to reduce our deficit in coming years. We will reduce our deficit to under 3 percent of GDP by 2012,» he told Handelsblatt. He also said Greece had to reform its tax and pension system and that it did not need a bailout. Greece’s public servants’ union, ADEDY, however, is preparing to clash with the government over austerity measures, announcing yesterday a one-day strike for February 10. GSEE, Greece’s largest private sector workers’ union, has also threatened to strike but has not yet decided to join ADEDY. Adding to Greece’s woes, an EU source said the European Commission was likely to take legal steps against Athens over unreliable statistics. «There will probably be another infringement procedure… because providing timely and reliable statistics is an obligation under EU law and they have failed in their obligation,» the EU source said. Premium on debt rises The Greek government paid a high premium to borrow 1.6 billion euros on financial markets yesterday as the cost of insuring its bonds rose. In Greece’s first foray into markets this year, the yield on its one-year T-bill rose 129 basis points above the October auction and was higher than what dealers had expected. «It’s a rather bad result in terms of the one-year yield, considering that Belgium is paying 0.77 percent for the same maturity,» Panagiotis Dimitropoulos, a treasurer at Millennium Bank-Greece, told Reuters. The cost of protecting Greek government debt against default also shot higher, according to monitor CMA DataVision. Credit-default swaps on Greece rose 20.5 basis points to 276 bps. That means it costs $276,000 a year to protect $10 million of the government’s debt from default for five years. The auction by the country’s Public Debt Management Agency (PDMA) produced a uniform yield of 2.20 percent for the 52-week T-bill, up from 0.91 percent in a previous October 13 auction. The 26-week yield came to 1.38 percent, up from 0.59 percent in the previous auction.

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