ECONOMY

In Brief

Romania faces general strike against austerity BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s government faces a major test next week, seeking to ensure international aid for its sputtering economy by forcing austerity measures through parliament in the face of a planned general strike. A failed bond auction on Thursday highlighted investor concern over promised spending cuts, which are needed to secure the next tranche of a 20-billion-euro International Monetary Fund-led aid deal. The centrist coalition government faces a confidence vote in parliament over the measures, which could force it to step down. «You have the risk the government will fall; you have social instability with a one-day general strike planned next week, those don’t look good in the eyes of investors,» said Nicolaie Alexandru-Chidesciuc, chief economist at ING Bank in Bucharest. Ziraat mulls stake sale offers from Balkan banks ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s biggest bank, Ziraat, is considering offers from Balkan lenders to sell it stakes in them and a deal could be finalized next year, the bank’s chief executive said. Can Akin Caglar told Reuters in an interview on Thursday the state-run bank wanted to become a leader in the surrounding region and reiterated that Greek banks have also approached it to acquire stakes. «Ziraat’s strategy between 2010 and 2015 is to become a regional power. With this perspective, we are seriously looking at this area,» he said. The proposals have come mostly from medium-sized banks, Caglar said, but declined to give anymore details or say in which countries. Ziraat, which specializes in farm loans, would consider investing. Caglar said last week Ziraat was interested in entering countries such as Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In the past, the bank has also said it was interested in expanding into Gulf countries and Central Asia. Greek and Austrian institutions are pulling back from the Balkans, which has created opportunities for Turkish lenders, Caglar said. «A vacuum is forming in these markets, and we are thinking about whether we can fill that,» he said. Turkish banks have been robust during the global financial crisis because strict regulations kept many of the toxic assets that harmed their Western peers off the books. Serbia Q1 growth The Greek financial crisis helped to restrict Serbia’s first-quarter economic growth to 0.5 percent, the Serbian finance minister said yesterday. «I think that the impact of the Greek crisis is actually slower growth than we expected,» Diana Dragutinovic told Reuters in an interview. «We expected growth of 2 percent [in 2010] but in the first quarter we actually experienced only 0.5 percent.» Dragutinovic said Serbia planned to issue dinar T-bills with two-year maturity in the last quarter of 2010. Still, Deputy Prime Minister Mladjan Dinkic said yesterday that Serbia’s economy will likely grow more than 2 percent this year, above a 1.5 percent estimate by the International Monetary Fund. «I am convinced growth will be above 2 percent of GDP,» Dinkic, who is also economy minister, told a conference in the capital Belgrade. «I believe the IMF will revise when it comes back in August.» He cited April and May growth as a reason for his confidence in stronger growth. (Reuters) EIB-Albania The European Investment Bank is lending Albania 50 million euros to upgrade its network of secondary roads and is discussing the financing of energy projects, an EIB official said yesterday. The EIB funding is part of a 140-million-euro project, co-financed by the European Union and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, to repair 1,500 kilometers of secondary and local roads. The Balkans «is the area where the European Union will be enlarged, and this is why the EU, the EIB, is committed to giving full support to the Albanian government to implement this project to reach as soon as possible the European Union,» Dario Scannapieco, the EIB’s vice president for Italy, Malta and the Western Balkans, told reporters. (Reuters)