Oil prices portend ‘tough winter’

As heating fuel went on sale yesterday for up to 55 cents a liter – compared to an average 33 cents last year – the government warned tough times were ahead. «Regarding heating oil, we face a difficult period ahead, a tough winter,» Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas told journalists. «We made an effort to ensure that prices are as low as possible, and I think we succeeded in this, thanks to the good coordination of all market sectors that compressed [their profit margins].» This mainly refers to state-controlled refineries – EKO-ELDA and Petrola – which came under intense pressure to keep their profits low, to about 1 cent per liter. However, sources said shareholders were expressing strong discontent with the refineries toeing the government line on heating oil. Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis did not rule out a special fuel subsidy for less well-off Greeks if prices remain high. According to the chairman of the Greek gas station owners’ association, Dimitris Makryvellios, heating oil was selling at a considerably higher price in rural areas than in Athens – where orders were low, due to unseasonably high temperatures. «In Athens, the prices ranged from 46-48 cents for orders of up to 1,000 liters, while in the provinces heating oil cost up to 8 cents more,» he told Kathimerini. «I would advise consumers to buy enough oil to cover the next fortnight, as nobody knows whether prices will drop.» As a result of high fuel costs, several goods and services are expected to become more expensive. Yesterday, cabbies called for fare increases, with the deputy chairman of the Attica taxi drivers’ union, Lefteris Terzakis, telling Kathimerini his union has commissioned a study from the National Technical University of Athens on cab-operating costs.