Daily News Review - 04/02/2019

ΠΟΛΙΤΗΣ NEWS Δημοσιεύθηκε 4.2.2019
Daily News Review  - 04/02/2019
Bank of Cyprus, which owns a share of 64% in the Nicosia Mall through NCMH Mall Holdings Ltd, has started seeking out an investor to sell its share.

Saturday, 2 - Monday, 4 February 2019

In today’s press:

New loans up and interest rates down

There was a 65.4% increase in fresh loans granted by the Cypriot banks in December 2018, while lending and deposit rates continued to drop, according to data released by the Central Bank on Friday. Total new loans reached €407.6m compared with €246.4m in November 2018. There was also an increase in fresh housing loans, which reached €101.6m in December, compared with €82.8m the previous month. Of these, €96.4m are purely new loans and €5.3m loans that were renegotiated. New loans to non-financial corporations for sums of up to €1m increased to €56.1m from €41.8m the previous month (€53.3m were new loans). Housing loan rates dropped to 2.13% in December from 2.29% the previous month (Eurozone average is 1.61%). The interest rate on loans to non-financial corporations for sums of up to €1m dropped in December to 3.41% from 3.53% in November (Eurozone average is 1.97%). As for deposit rates, the interest rate on deposits with a maturity of up to one year for households declined to 0.40% in December, from 0.54% the previous month.

Moneyval on its way to ‘dust off’ accounts

The Council of Europe’s money-laundering agency, Moneyval, will be arriving in Cyprus in March, according to circulars that have been sent. It will assess the government and relevant authorities, as well as the banks and licensed service providers such as law, accounting and auditing firms, as well as firms that provide administrative services.

Commission investigates 8 banks operating a cartel

The European Union’s antitrust authority has charged eight unnamed banks with operating a cartel in trading euro zone government bonds between 2007 and 2012, years when the financial crisis dragged down banks and countries. The European Commission said in a statement that some traders at the banks exchanged commercially sensitive information and coordinated trading strategies on the euro-denominated bonds, mainly through online chatrooms.

Numb climate

In January 2019, economic sentiment in Cyprus deteriorated as the Economic Sentiment Indicator (ESI-CypERC) decreased by 3.8 points compared with December 2018. The latest figure follows the ERC’s forecast of a 3.1% deceleration of economic growth in 2019. The decline was mainly driven by confidence losses in services and industry. Economic confidence in construction remained unchanged, while confidence in retail trade changed only marginally. Consumer confidence, measured by the revised Consumer Confidence Indicator, strengthened slightly. The Services Confidence Indicator declined as a result of a deterioration in firms’ assessments of past business situation and past demand, and a significant downward revision in demand expectations. The Retail Trade Confidence Indicator decreased marginally mainly as a result of downward revisions in sales expectations. The Construction Confidence Indicator remained unchanged as firms’ improved views on the current level of order books were offset by downward revisions in employment plans. The Industry Confidence Indicator decreased mainly due to a large downward revision in production expectations, and a deterioration in firms’ assessments of the current level of order books.

Citizens worried about rising prices / inflation

In the latest Eurobarometer, EU citizens were asked which two societal problems worried them the most. Three in 10 (32%) said it was rising prices, which made it the most serious problem worrying Europeans at this time. The level of concern among Cypriots was exactly the same as the EU average, 32%.

Alarm bells ringing over no-deal Brexit

Alarm bells are ringing across Europe, as the scenario of a no-deal Brexit becomes all the more probable. Cyprus has an additional reason to be concerned, what with the British Bases on the island and all the consequences this entails. Also, among the concerns is how Brexit will impact on Cyprus tourism, as the British are the island’s main market and tourism is a significant lever of growth. Furthermore, there will be unpredictable consequences for trade; if the UK exits the EU in line with the agreement, there will be no changes to transactions until the end of 2020. If there is a no-deal Brexit, there will inevitably be immediate changes to duties and procedures, which will become lengthier.

Barrage of contacts with key-countries

According to Phileleftheros’ sources, the Republic of Cyprus is feverishly working on enhancing its double taxation avoidance treaties. They said that a number of contacts have been scheduled for 2019, either to draw up new treaties, or renew existing ones. Cyprus currently has treaties with 64 countries and the aim is to expand them continuously as the specific tool is considered key in efforts to establish Cyprus as a service providing centre and investment hub.

Next step a mystery

President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci will meet with the UN Secretary General’s envoy Jane Holl Lute on Sunday, with the requirement being to conclude on the terms of reference for the resumption of the Cyprus peace process. It is yet unknown whether Lute has something specific to relay to the leaders, or whether the terms will be concluded on during this visit. Phileleftheros writes that the fact that Lute has scheduled a second meeting with the leaders on Monday raises optimism that she will be presenting a specific proposal. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides and Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu met on Friday on the side-lines of the informal EU summit for FMs, the Gymnich. The two are said to have discussed the current developments in the Cyprus problem and the situation in the East Med, though nothing concrete came out of it.

Here are Hellenic’s new shareholders

Hellenic Bank’s new shareholder structure will become clear on 18 March. The procedure for the share capital increase began last Monday with the approval of the bank’s prospectus by the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission. According to Simerini’s sources, Third Point, with a current stake of 26.2%, is not expected to participate, and so its stake will drop to 12.6%. If it did participate, its stake would drop to 21.6%. As for Wargaming, which currently controls 24.8%, the sources say it will exercise its preferential rights, which will bring its stake down to 20.5%. If it did not participate, its share would drop to 11.9%. Demetra Investment’s participation is considered a given, bringing its share down to 8.3% from 10.05%. Based on the relevant agreement, Demetra can contribute a minimum of €10m and maximum of €50m if the other existing shareholders do not exercise their preferential rights. This means that Demetra’s stake will range between 8.3% and 22.1%, with market forecasts predicting its final participation at 15%. EBRD’s participation is considered a given, taking its share from 5.39% to 4.4%, while Senvest will see its stake drop from 4.47% to 3.9%. The Archbishopric is not expected to participate in the increase, so it will see its share drop from 3.6% to 1.7% (if it participated its share would be 3%). The participation of EMMA ALPHA, major shareholder in OPAP Greece, is also considered a given (the maximum share it can acquire is 9%).

Fewer foreigners on the banks’ Boards

It is a well-known fact that the Cypriot banks’ share capital consists mainly of foreign investment funds, especially American, Kathimerini Economy reports. However, even though it may seem that the banks’ Boards of Directors also consist mainly of foreign investors, this is not the case. The majority of Cypriot banks’ shareholders are foreign investment funds from the US, Canada, Europe and Middle East. However, the Boards are mainly made up of Cypriots and Greeks. In numbers, of Bank of Cyprus, Hellenic Bank, RCB Bank, Eurobank Cyprus, Astrobank and Alpha Bank’s Boards, 47 members are Cypriots and Greeks while 20 are foreign. As for the gender ratio, 47 Board members are male and just nine are female. HB’s board has five foreigners and eight Cypriots-Greeks.The main shareholders of Hellenic are Third Point (26.2%), Wargaming (24.92%), Demetra Investment (10.05%), EBRD (5.37%) and Senvest (4.9%). At RCB, Crendaro Investments Limited (49.9%), VTB Bank has 46.29% while Mitarva Limited has 3,81% in its share capital.

The moves of the 26,000 shareholders

The procedure that is currently underway to increase Hellenic Bank’s share capital by issuing preferential rights is the country’s biggest absorption of capital via the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission since the 2013 crisis. The procedure is forcing the bank’s 26,000 shareholders to make a move, while once completed, HB will have a strong capital base and new share structure, Politis reports. The final share structure will depend on how the bank’s main shareholders act, but also its large mass of smaller shareholders, which include a number of institutional investors. According to the prospectus, preferential rights will be issued and conceded for free to all the existing shareholders that hold shares in the bank on 4 February 2019. One preferential right will be granted for every share. The exercise or sale of these rights via the CSE – negotiating period set from 15 until 28 February – will shape the new share structure. Existing shareholders have already accepted the introduction of a new shareholder, Poppy Sarl of Pimco, which will pay €50m through a private placement. All eyes, of course, are on how the major shareholders will act. It is reminded that Third Point owns 26.19%, Wargaming 24.91%, Demetra Investment 10.05% and ERD 5.37%. The general investment public owns 32.95%. The capital increase will complete the procedure to acquire the Cyprus Co-operative Bank’s business and obligations. Once the money is deposited, Hellenic’s CET1 ratio will reach 18.2%, when the current supervisory requirement is 9.7%.

Hellenic Bank – Insurance companies under the microscope

Hellenic Bank is currently examining all available options as regards its subsidiary insurance companies. Within the first half of the year, the bank is expected to revise among other its strategy to optimise the value of its existing insurance and bancassurance services. As the bank itself has said, following the acquisition of the CCB’s business operations along with its customer base, there is improved potential to develop insurance activities and increase the value from its subsidiary insurance companies. Within this context, the bank said it will revise in the first half of 2019: its subsidiary insurance companies’ standing in the market; its bancassurance contracts though which it will provide insurance products; and the strategy the bank must follow to optimise the value from its insurance and bancassurance services.

Hellenic’s dowry and the risks

Hellenic Bank is reaping the benefits from its acquisition of the Co-op, Kathimerini Economy reports. It has increased its clientele overnight, become the second largest bank in Cyprus, recorded massive profits of €300m in the first nine months of 2018, it received around €825m from the state in the form of government bonds and an early loan repayment. However, along with the many positives there are also certain risks, as a strong reliance on bonds has been created, says the paper. Cypriot government bonds now comprise 577.9% of Hellenic’s own funds. The bank itself notes that this percentage is very high and that its increased exposure to these bonds significantly increases the risks in terms of credit, interest but also liquidity. As the bank has said, a possible deterioration of the Republic of Cyprus’ creditworthiness and subsequent possible downgrades, could lead to changes to the accounting classification and the downgrading of the securities, which will lead to increased provisions for the bank.

Land plots from a thousand euros up to €20m

The banks are auctioning off plots of land in isolated areas at €1,000 a piece, but also lucrative seafront plots for up to €20m. The land acquired in exchange for debt by Bank of Cyprus’ REMU, Hellenic’s APS and KEDIPES’ Altamira offer a variety of options for all types of wallets. BoC has the most options, what with the massive volume of assets it has acquired. HB also has a number of properties, both cheap and expensive, to offer. Altamira has a vast number of low-priced farm plots.

Sofa… the biggest branch

When asked to comment recently on the closure of former Co-op branches after its acquisition by Hellenic, Finance Minister Harris Georgiades said that if it was up to him, more branches would have been shut down. Then Bank of Cyprus announced that it will close 15 branches. But Simerini reports that the banks will continue to shutter branches as time goes on, as they are faced with three important facts: the cost of keeping these branches in operation, including security and risk, is constantly on the rise; digital services are radically gaining ground, with customers opting to use them instead of traditional banking methods; and the banks are under strong pressure to provide new services, especially in the payments field, with banks that are purely digital, such as Revolut and N26, increasing their market shares at an alarming speed. The Cypriot banks have been making an effort to move with the times, developing their own apps and other digital products. A BoC executive recently said that the bank’s biggest branch is currently “the client’s sofa and his mobile phone”. BoC and Hellenic have also issued wearables, stickers and bracelets to replace the traditional credit cards. According to the paper’s sources, BoC has already started circulating a digital wallet, completely abolishing credit cards. Payments can be made by tapping the mobile phone. Astrobank has also issued the Skash digital wallet.

Increased revenue and reduced costs

Article by Dr George Theocharides, Deputy Professor of Economics at CIIM and Director of the MSc in Financial Services. He says one could say that 2018 was a year of significant progress for the sector; though there are still some serious problems. Perhaps the way in which this progress was achieved was not as anticipated, but objectively, the banking system is now more robust, strong and stable compared to the start of the previous year. The closure of the Co-op was undoubtedly the most important event of the year, he says, with the “good part” moved to Hellenic Bank and the bad part remaining in the hands of the government. Even though it was a well-known fact that the CCB was facing problems, the way and speed at which it happened surprised many. But was it really such a bad development, he wonders? The CCB had been through a lot over the previous years, mainly due to the lack of supervision, regulation and proper corporate governance, which led to an enormous number of NPLs post-crisis. Add to that the nature of these loans (mostly housing) and the excessive protection the state provides such loans with, the recovery rate was exceptionally low. And there was pressure by the EU supervisory bodies for progress in tackling NPLs.

Path to havoc

Article by “Thinking Citizen” Aistos Athinakis, who writes among other that he was devastated when he came across a bank clerk removing the Co-op sign from the branch in his home village of Pachna, to replace it with that of Hellenic Bank.

AstroBank: On a path of growth and constant development

Article by AstroBank CEO George Appios who writes that in a landscape that is constantly changing and characterised by intense competition, it is very important for an organisation to remain dedicated to a specific development plan in order to achieve its strategic goals. It is within this context that Astrobank’s acquisition of USB Bank’s banking operations was completed recently, he says. The move has doubled AstroBank’s size, making it stronger and more competitive, with assets in excess of €2.1b, mixed advances of €1.2b, customer deposits of €1.9b and capital of over €160m.

Fifth Junior Achievement innovation workshop

The organisation Junior Achievement Cyprus recently held its fifth annual innovation workshop, which aims to awaken students’ business spirit and help them development entrepreneurial and innovation skills. JA Cyprus is supported, among other, by Astrobank.

Seven start-ups graduate from IDEA

The IDEA Innovation Centre on Saturday celebrated the graduation of seven new start-ups: Lemon Labs, Wellretreat, Hegemonic Project, Kyamos Ltd, GenuIN, Ppissis.com.cy and Teembly. The Centre is supported by Bank of Cyprus.

Governors, directors, advisors sought

There will be some significant changes at the Central Bank soon, as individuals are sought to fill key positions that will be vacated. Among the positions are that of Governor, executive Board member, non-executive Board member, senior director of the Supervision Division and senior director of the Economics, Statistics & Financial Stability Division. CBC Governor Chrystalla Georghadji’s terms expires in two months.

Tax revenue of €21.3b over five years

The state has received almost €21.3b through taxes over the past five years. In fact, VAT is responsible for increasing the state’s revenue every year. From 2013 until 2018, takings from VAT comprised almost 50% of tax revenue, exceeding €10b.

Nicosia Mall will change ownership

Bank of Cyprus, which owns a share of 64% in the Nicosia Mall through NCMH Mall Holdings Ltd, has started seeking out an investor to sell its share. Its aim is to reach a deal by the summer. The bank has already started meeting with potential investors, according to the paper’s sources, who also say that the bank’s is optimistic that it will achieve its target.

Clerides throws the ball in the President’s court

Kathimerini interviews Attorney-general Costas Clerides, who says that corrective measures must be taken straight away to deal with the recent accusations about judges’ involvement with a specific law firm. Asked if any other measures, such as appointing an investigative committee or launching a criminal investigation, should be taken, Clerides points out that it is not his place seeing that he is directly involved, insinuating that it is the responsibility of the Cabinet. Asked whether he believes there is a concentration of excessive influence over the judicial branch by certain law firms due to judges’ relations with law firm operators, the AG said: “As it was confirmed through recent events and particularly the trial for the two appeals that involved Bank of Cyprus, there is indeed a problem.”

Liquidation battle still open

The Cyprus economy emerged unscathed from the most important chapter of the FBME case, after the international arbitration court ruled against the €1b compensation the Tanzanian bank’s owners were seeking from the Republic for shutting down its branch on the island. This was an important development, not just for the economy, but also the island’s authorities, Simerini writes. However, another important chapter of the FBME saga remains open: the bank’s liquidation, which is being tried in court. In June 2018 the Supreme Court definitively and irrevocably closed the door on any hopes of an FBME liquidation by rejecting an appeal by the Central Bank. The Tanzanian liquidator has for a while now been seeking to liquidate the Cypriot branch; 90% of the bank’s deposits are in Cyprus. The first instance Court rejected a request by the Central Bank and Resolution Authority to liquidate the bank, as it ruled that they did not have the jurisdiction to proceed. The Central Bank appealed the ruling, which was then rejected by the Supreme Court in June. However, the FBME branch continues to be under special administration. Even though the arbitration court’s ruling does not impact legally on the liquidation case, legal sources have told the paper that it may shape or lead to developments, if the Tanzanians relent and agree to find a better “formula” to proceed with the procedure with mutual understanding, a “modus vivendi” between the Tanzanian liquidator and the Resolution Authority, which was what the latter had been seeking from the start. However, the sources said that over the course of time, the Tanzanians have at times been responsive, and then at other times non-responsive.

The message from FBME

Politis newspaper comments that the FBME case wrapped on a positive note for the Republic of Cyprus and it avoided paying hefty compensation. However, it would be good to learn some lessons from it. To begin with, we need to start trusting the Cypriot authorities more. The Central Bank moved within the framework of the law to avert a possible destabilisation of the Cypriot banking system, at a time when a conscious effort was being made to move out from under the shadow of the 2013 crisis. We must not forget that the FBME case broke in the summer of 2014. And then there is the Law Office of the Republic, which proved effective, cooperative with the Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP law firm, and won the case. The paper says it wants to point all this out as the matter has been raised at times at the House, in a critical tone against CBC Governor Chrystalla Georghadji. The second lesson to learn is that Cyprus needs stricter supervision, so as not to find itself in similar situations in the future. It would generally be a good thing if the large branches of foreign banks were turned into Cypriot entities, the paper concludes.

Vote by conscience at the European Elections

Simerini presents the newspaper’s first poll on the upcoming European Elections, and it says that if the findings are reflected in the actual elections, it will seriously shake up the political parties. Almost three in four participants stated that they will vote for “the candidates that are most suitable regardless of the party they support”, or that they will decide “depending on the views of the candidates”. A minority will vote according to their party preferences, while there is also expected to be a high abstention rate.

The prospects of the energy sector

Article by Lazaros Charalambous, commercial manager of DP World Limassol, on the prospects of Cyprus’ energy sector. Among other, he writes that Cyprus’ geographical positioning at the crossroads between Europe, Africa and the Middle East provides it with all the natural advantages required to turn it into a regional hub. DP World’s terminal in Limassol is indicative of this success, as it currently provides passenger services and supply services to the markets of the surrounding region. However, he notes, one matter that has not been debated as much is the potential of turning Cyprus into an energy hub of the broader Eastern Mediterranean. Exploratory drilling in 2011 estimated that there were around 4.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Aphrodite gas field in Cyprus’ EEZ. Given that domestic demand for natural gas is limited, the biggest part of the production will be exported. Despite this, due to the size of the deposits, it is not feasible to install LNG liquefaction terminals in the extraction area, which opens new prospects for the development of a financially efficient location for exploration and onshore operations, Charalambous points out. According to the International Energy Agency, oil and particularly natural gas are expected to play a significant role along with renewable energy sources in the near future. It predicts that in conditions of sustainable growth, the demand for natural gas will increase by 20% by 2030, with natural gas being turned into the commonly used fuel worldwide. Within this context, DP World Limassol’s contribution to forming Cyprus’ hydrocarbons sector is vital. The supply zone for oil and natural gas at the company’s terminal spans a total area of 100,000m2. It has a 430m-long jetty exclusively for the energy sector, while it also has other 1.2km jetties that can be used. The terminal was successfully used by ENI during its drilling in the Cypriot EEZ, while other international oil companies, such as ExxonMobil, have indicated the terminal as a supply base in their exploratory drilling.

The essence of the disputes at the ports

Article by Athos Eleftheriou, general secretary of trade union SEGDAMELIN-PEO, who writes that the dispute at Limassol port emerged due to the non-renewal of the workers’ collective agreement, which he notes expired on 31 December 2017. With everything that has gone on, the port workers have always been willing to enter a dialogue to resolve the disputes, says Eleftheriou. But the relevant authorities are dragging their heels and he wonders why. He says the differences dividing the two sides are not that big, but there does not seem to be a will to resolve them, with the main excuse being that the economy cannot handle it. He says two years ago the economy tolerated the huge increases that were imposed by the two Limassol port operators on the tariffs, while there have been rumours that there will be further increases soon. But no one is reacting to that.

PwC Cyprus focuses on developments in the shipping sector

PwC Cyprus focused on developments surrounding the shipping sector at an event that took place on 30 January in Limassol. Professionals of the sector and other stakeholders participated in the event, where they were updated by the PwC team on how things currently stand with the sector, as well as its challenges and prospects. Addressing the event, Cleo Papadopoulou, Tax Advisory, in charge of Transportation & Logistics at PwC Cyprus, referred to how important shipping is for the Cyprus economy, contributing around 7% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product. “Cyprus is now a fully-fledged shipping centre. This is due to a number and variety of factors, such as the implementation of the right policy by the state, its quality flag, the high levels of security and services, the excellent cooperation between the public and private sector, as well as our legal and tax framework, which is perhaps the best in the European Union,” she said.

Merchant shipping on a… rota of growth

Article by KPMG Cyprus Board Member Tasos Yiasemides, who says that it is particularly important to turn Cyprus into a competitive shipping hub, in the constantly changing international financial-political environment. He says the merchant shipping sector proved durable during the economic crisis and has always been one of the most important and steady contributors to the Cypriot GDP, with great potential for growth. The success of the sector is even bigger if one takes into account the difficulties shipping faced internationally when the economic crisis broke out, with fares dropping, oil prices dropping significantly (making specific marine transports non-viable), problems arising with financing and the construction of ships being cancelled.

Important dates for Hellenic

As of 1 February 2019, Hellenic Bank’s shares are being negotiated without the right to participate in the preferential rights issue (ex-issue date). The countdown has begun for the share capital increase and a series of landmark dates have started to arrive. February is the month that sounds the essential start of the proceedings that have to do with the €150m share capital increase. The letters to the shareholders over their right to exercise preferential rights will be sent on 8 February. The negotiating period for the preferential rights at the CSE will begin on 15 February and last until 28 February. The period for exercising the preferential rights will begin on 15 February and last until 7 March. The share capital increase will be made via the issuing of preferential rights to absorb up to €100,031,254.40 and through a private placement of €50,000,000.40 and introduction to the CSE of the preferential rights that were issued, with a nominal value of €0.50 each.

“European Solidarity Corps” programme

European Commissioner Christos Stylianides, responsible for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, is visiting Nicosia on Monday to address a ceremony launching the EU initiative “European Solidarity Corps”, which will take place at the Hellenic Bank administration building. According to a European Commission announcement, the event is organised by the Youth Board of Cyprus (ONEK), who is also implementing the EU initiative in Cyprus. ONEK Board President Panayiotis Sentonas will also address the event, while ONEK Executive Director Menelaos Menelaou will present the initiative. The European Solidarity Corps is the new European Union initiative which creates opportunities for young people to volunteer or work in projects in their own country or abroad that benefit communities and people around Europe, the announcement says. The budget allocated for the 2018-2020 period is €375.6m, which will allow the European Solidarity Corps to place 100,000 young people around EU.

Salaries: Banks ready for battle

The local banks are ready for battle, in their bid to reduce staff costs, while their revenue continues to come under pressure due to bad loans and low interest rates. The banking sector’s collective agreements expired on 31 December, except Bank of Cyprus’, which expired in December 2017 and still hasn’t been renewed. National Bank of Greece (Cyprus) is still pending too, after expiring in December 2016. The two sides have yet to enter substantive negotiations due to a labour dispute the Labour Ministry’s mediation service had to resolve over the concession or not of annual increments and the Cost of Living Allowance. After a long mediation by the Labour Minister, BoC relented and conceded the annual increments and CoLA. As for Hellenic Bank, a serious labour crisis is looming, with ETYK already having been authorised by the vast majority of its members to take strong industrial action. The union is accusing the bank’s management of not paying CoLA or annual increments to its staff at end-January, as provided in the existing collective agreement. It also accused HB of seeking to renegotiate substantive provisions of the collective agreement, in a letter it sent. Following a general assembly of its HB members, ETYK said the bank is demanding a change to the pay scales and annual increments, a change in benefits and pay rises from change of duties, the indexation allowance, health fund contributions, conventional loans and working hours. In a letter, HB informed ETYK that it would not pay annual increments or other benefits that entail an increase of the payroll, as all this will be part of the negotiation to renew the collective agreement.

The commercial properties in the hands of the banks

INBusinessNews presents the commercial properties that are up for auction by the banks, which they acquired through debt-to-property swaps. APS’ list does not mention the prices of all the commercial properties and interested parties are asked to submit bids for them. The most expensive property on its list is the former E&S Anexartisias commercial centre in Limassol. There is also the Iacovides Tower, which is in a prime location in Nicosia, as well as the Pafos Oasis building.

Hellenic: All options open for insurance companies

Hellenic Bank is currently examining all available options as regards its subsidiary insurance companies. Within the first half of the year, the bank is expected to revise among other its strategy to optimise the value of its existing insurance and bancassurance services. As the bank itself has said, following the acquisition of the CCB’s business operations along with its customer base, there is improved potential to develop insurance activities and increase the value from its subsidiary insurance companies. Within this context, the bank said it will revise in the first half of 2019: its subsidiary insurance companies’ standing in the market; its bancassurance contracts though which it will provide insurance products; and the strategy the bank must follow to optimise the value from its insurance and bancassurance services.

Cars priced from €300 to €15,000 at auction

Bank of Cyprus is expected to put a fresh batch of cars up for auction tomorrow in Mosfiloti, along with a number of older cars that failed to sell at a previous auction. It is also expected to auction off gym equipment, a sauna and steam bath, among other. Its list includes 72 cars, with the cheapest starting from €300 and the dearest €15,000.

Low interest rates, big profits for the banks

Haravgi reports on the data released by the Central Bank on Friday on banks’ loans and interest rates. It says that deposit rates dropped by 65% in December, while housing rates dropped by only 15.8%. Corporate rates dropped by only 4.2%. The paper reports that an environment has been created of low interest rates but big profits for the banks, especially after the closure of the Co-op.

He is completely innocent… he states about the economy

Immediate measures need to be taken in the justice system, Attorney-general Costas Clerides said on Sunday in interviews with three papers. Public confidence in the judiciary and its bodies will be restored when the necessary measures are taken to correct what is wrong now, but have also emerged in the past, he said in an interview with Alithia. He said the recent public debate, which is still continuing, on the subject of justice has led to the disclosure of serious issues, which although they have been going on for a long time have not been taken seriously. However, the high-profile debate has led to measures starting to be taken, Clerides said, although how effective they are will be judged as time goes on. Ten days ago, the Attorney general complained that the Legal Services have been left out of discussions for judicial reform, which he said was “not a matter of intention or not exaggeration, but a fact”.

Lengthy consultation

According to Phileleftheros’ sources, any developments in concluding on the terms of reference will become clear after today’s meetings between UNSG Envoy Jane Holl Lute and the two leaders. The paper says Lute’s meeting with the President is expected to take place at 6.30 tonight, while her meeting with the Turkish Cypriot leader will take place in the morning. The sources said President Nicos Anastasiades focused on three main issues: for peace talks to resume from where they left off in Crans-Montana, for the basis of the resumed talks to be the Antonio Guterres framework, and that the Greek Cypriot side favours the position for a decentralisation of powers. He further stressed that the two sides must agree on the terms of reference for the process to recommence. As for Mustafa Akinci, the paper’s sources said he insisted on the position for a positive vote (namely for the ability to veto any decision of the central state). He also urged for a meeting with President Anastasiades. The paper learns that the meeting between the two leaders will take place in the coming days, but not in the presence of Lute, who will depart today after her meetings. The exact date and time of their meeting will be decided during meetings they will have with UNSG special representative Elizabeth Spehar.

Mediation for port dispute

Despite the massive increases that have been imposed by Limassol port’s operators, they are refusing to pay port workers what they are entitled to, Haravgi reports. The mediation at the Labour Ministry begins today to resolve the labour dispute at the ports. The paper says the operators are refusing to give the minimum to those who work hard at the port day in day out, while their duties have more than doubled over the past few years. The labour dispute that arose with Eurogate, DP World and the Cyprus Shipping Association has led to strikes, says the paper, yet no one really knows what the essence of the dispute is. The most important differences have to do with the number of workers required for each loading and unloading of cargo, while the second has to do with how much the dockers and stevedores are paid per cargo load. This sum is called an “encouraging pay” and its extent depends on the type of load. For container loads the company has increased its charges to over €100 per container, and while the workers are seeking an increase of 30 cents, they are being refused with the excuse that the economy could not handle it. Today, the companies charge €287 for a 40-foot container, while they are expected to proceed with more increases soon to take cost up to €300. The paper points out that ports in the surrounding region charge on average €80m, so trading at the port has dropped since the privatization in 2017.

Tourism: Travel & Leisure

InBusiness presents the biggest companies in the Tourism, Travel & Leisure sectors mentioning that the biggest shake-up in the sector is the creation of a Deputy Ministry of Tourism and its incorporation of the Cyprus Tourism Organisation. The article adds that this is expected to have a positive effect on the drawing up and implementation of the recommended national strategy. Moreover, in terms of growing numbers of visitors the launch of the City of Dreams Mediterranean Integrated Casino Resort in 2021 is expected to add another 300,000 to the total number of tourist arrivals.

Services the road to growth

InBusinessNews presents the companies that are most significant for the services sector in Cyprus, noting that they have been very important for the road to recovery in the economy.

Visa-free travel for the British

The European Union plans to allow UK citizens visa-free travel, even in the case of a no-deal Brexit. In a statement, the European Council said it will start negotiations with the European Parliament to pass the legislation. It would apply to British citizens for a period of 90-180 days traveling to any of the 26 countries with open borders, known as the Schengen Area.

The Sun is sending tourists to the occupied areas

The Cypriot diaspora in Britain, has protested the 4-page commercial published in newspaper, ‘the Sun’ concerning a one-week vacation package to the occupied areas, as a special offer to the newspaper’s readers. The package offers a discount of £149 pounds, on the normal price of £1.149.

3+1 proposals for the Deputy Ministry’s success

The author, Mayor of Ayia Napa proposes ways to ensure that the Deputy Ministry of Tourism is successful. He suggests to increase the budget of the Deputy Ministry so that it corresponds to its value and its contribution to the economy. Further, he notes that the Ministry should find smart ways to promote the country, since the traditional ways are rather outdated. The Mayor also notes that the Ministry should educate people and businesspeople on the importance of tourism for our country. Finally, he notes that the Ministry should establish a Contingency Plan, which it will use in the case of a crisis, since Cyprus is highly depended on geopolitical developments.

21 of 28 beaches are not fully accessible

Politis reports that only 48 organised beaches are partly accessible to persons with disabilities, with only 21 being offering access directly into the water. The local authorities are responsible for the creation of these facilities for disabled persons.

120 illegal beach interventions in 5 years

In the past five years, the Famagusta district office has handled 120 complaints of illegal intervention on beaches, said Minister of Interior, Constantinos Petrides, responding to a question by Greens MP, Charalambos Theopemptou. Currently two cases where offenders have not complied with authorities’ instructions are underway – one is against a local authority for work in front of the Malama tourist complex in Paralimni’s Skoutari area and the second against two individuals and one company for interventions at the Ammos tou Kambouri area in Ayia Napa. Petrides said that the local authority had complied with instructions regarding a case at Pernera where work had started without the required permits. This work has now stopped.

Property sales up in January

Cyprus property sales continued to rise in January, with the number of sales contracts deposited at Land Registry offices in the Republic rising by 10% compared to the same month last year. January 2019 saw a total of 766 contracts deposited at Land Registry offices for the sale of commercial and residential properties and land compared with 695 in January 2018; a rise of 10%. In percentage terms, Paphos lead the way with sales up 14% followed by Limassol, where sales rose by 12%. Meanwhile sales in both Nicosia and Famagusta rose by 10%, while sales in Larnaca rose by 2%.

0.40% fee on real estate

EDEK MP, Costas Eftstathiou submitted a draft bill on the imposition of a 0.40% fee on every real estate transaction, with the estimated annual profits (€30-50m), going to the Agency for Equal Distribution of Burdens that gives financial support to the Cypriot displaced persons.

Larnaca is getting taller by 83 metres

Phileleftheros reports that Larnaca is steadily getting taller, as it is looking into the construction of 16 buildings, with a total of 271 storeys with the tallest building being 30 storeys high. The highest point of the building will reach 83 metres. Larnaca’s local authorities will have the final say on the high-rise buildings.

Amaya Residences: An exemplary residential development in Paphos

Phileleftheros reports that Pafilia Property Developers is creating another impressive residential development in Paphos. The development consists of 1, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments with private spacious verandas and a private pool for the owners. The project is situated on the advantageous and quiet area in the heart of the beach city, only 5 minutes away from Paphos’ luxury hotels and in very close proximity to different facilities.

GHS: Alarm bells over medicines

If the expenditure on medicines under the General Health System (GHS) exceeds the amount provided in the budget, then the pharmaceutical industry must return the difference to the Health Insurance Organisation (HIO), according to the latter’s proposal to the pharmaceutical industry, Politis reports. This is a practice followed in a number of health systems across Europe; however, the local pharmaceutical companies consider implementing this under the GHS as unacceptable, at least in the first years of its operation. The discounts on medicines are also on the table of consultations between the HIO and the pharmaceutical industry, with the president of the Cyprus Association of Research and Development Pharmaceutical Companies (KEFEA), Kyriakos Mikellis, sounding alarm bells over reckless discounts that could jeopardise the availability of medicines in the market. But despite the certain thorny issues, the consultations between the two sides continue, and even though they are still far from reaching an agreement, there is a will from both sides to find the right balance. The paper interviews Mikellis, asking among other whether the differences separating the two sides will be bridged in time for the medicines’ inclusion in the GHS in the first phase of implementation in June 2019. He replies that KEFEA would not have entered consultations if it did not believe that common ground could be found to offer the best medical care in the world. He said the HIO has submitted its views, and KEFEA has returned with its own in writing. “So, we are waiting for a new meeting to be arranged in the next few days to discuss our differences, which are many,” said Mikellis. Asked what the most important differences were, he said that there are three main issues: the first is the budget for medicines, the second is the procedures that will be followed by the HIO and Health Ministry to incorporate new medicines into the GHS as well as the classification of the medicines, and the third is the discount rates that the HIO is seeking for the medicines. “For example, there is a discussion on clawback fees, which we think is unacceptable and we will not accept. I do not believe we are close to an agreement. But I am not saying that there are no margins for discussion on the abovementioned issues,” said Mikellis, among other.

Putting a stop to falsified medicines

The EU regulation on falsified medicines comes into effect on 9 February. The Delegated Regulation (EU) 2016/161 introduces two safety features to be placed on the packaging of most human medicines: a unique identifier (a 2-dimension barcode) and an anti-tampering device. Marketing authorisation holders must place these on the packaging of most prescription medicines and certain non-prescription medicines no later than 9 February 2019. The annexes of the regulation include the list of medicines subject to the new requirement. These safety features will guarantee medicine authenticity for the benefit of patients and businesses, and will strengthen the security of the medicine supply chain, from manufacturers to distributors, pharmacies and hospitals. They relevant software verifying whether a medicine is authentic must be installed by all pharmacies. Falsified medicines are one of the most serious threats to public health, while their illegal sales cost the EU around €10.2b annually, or comprise 4.4% of medicine sales.

Digitisation of prescriptions

Alithia reports that the Ministry of Health and the Pharmaceutical Services are completely ignorant about Cyprus’ integration in the EU’s cross-border electronic healthcare system, which will enable EU citizens to obtain e-Prescriptions anywhere in Europe. The author reports that when the newspaper tried to obtain information about the new system and Cyprus’ integration in this system, neither the Ministry nor the Pharmaceutical Services could respond to their questions. The article notes that the Pharmaceutical Services told them that a similar measure of digitisation of prescriptions will take place within the GHS framework but they did not know about the cross-border usage of the e-prescriptions. An officer told them that in the framework of the GHS, doctors will prescribe citizens with an e-prescription which will be registered on an online platform that will be accessible by all pharmacists.

Strained dialogue

The dialogue over health sector reform continued last week in a strained atmosphere. Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said on Friday that doctors who wish to join the GHS are being “bullied” by other colleagues into refusing. He said there were plenty of paediatricians who also wanted to join, and who have started the application procedures. Though their names are included on the list of paediatricians who have stated that they will not participate in the GHS. Ioannou said the picture was much different than it seemed, and that everyone should take responsibility for their own actions. The dialogue over the health sector continued on a political level as well on Friday, following the party leaders’ meeting at the Presidential Palace on Thursday. Ioannou said that at the meeting, all party leaders voiced their dedication to implementing the NHS in theory, but public statements afterwards showed a different picture.

Vital issues for the GHS in action

The paper interviews Dr Andreas Polynikis, former chairman of the GHS technical committee and current chairman of the Scientific Society of personal-family doctors. He says there are shortcomings, projects that were not followed through, while speaking in favour of a comprehensive budget for the GHS and saying the state was strongly responsible for the delays in implementing the GHS. He further notes that it would be morally wrong to not register under the GHS, seeing that he participated in the planning of the system. He said that for the GHS to function properly, it needs all the doctors in Cyprus.

Finally they are concerned and giving warnings about the GHS

Finally, besides EDEK, the other parties have also voiced their concerns about the GHS, Phileleftheros reports. The concerns are focused on whether the HIO will be in a position to provide comprehensive services to the beneficiaries who will start paying GHS contributions as of 1 March. The matter was discussed at the Presidential Palace last Thursday, between President Nicos Anastasiades and the party leaders, and even though an effort was made to show that everyone was unanimous and in agreement that the GHS must be implemented, the reality is very different. Even ruling DISY and opposition DIKO tabled various concerns, referring to the negative stance of the doctors, saying the matter had to be revised and the disputes overcome.

Quick discharges

Politis reports that there is chaos at the hospitals due to the type A influenza. People are left waiting for hours at the Emergency rooms, which have been full to capacity over the past few days. Four deaths have been linked to H1N1. The Organisation of State Health Services is trying to handle the situation. The executive director of the Limassol-Paphos region, Christos Nicolaou, sent a letter asking doctors to accelerate discharging patients, to free up bed space.

OEV to begin contacts with political parties

Politis reports on the decision by the Employers and Industrialists Federation (OEV) to propose the postponement of contributions to the GHS until an agreement has been reached with doctors and hospitals. OEV will begin contacts with political parties this week. Politis argues that if the majority of political leaders are telling their honest opinion in public debates, the law will not be amended.

Medochemie Nicosia Marathon is a challenge for every runner

Medochemie Nicosia Marathon will take place on 24 February 2019 and is expected to constitute the greatest challenge for every runner. High-level athletes as well as people of various backgrounds are given the opportunity to put their stamina to the test. The Medochemie Nicosia Marathon includes various events: a 42.195km Marathon, a 21km Marathon, a Marathon relay race, a 5K and a corporate 5K. On 23 February, there will be races for children.

A Cypriot doctor won the 2018 Papanicolaou prize

Cypriot doctor Myria Galazi has won the 2018 Papanicolaou prize. The Hellenic Medical Society in the UK organises the award ceremony every year. Galazi won the award for her research into prostate metastatic cancer. Dr Galazi is a clinical researcher at St Bartholomew’s hospital in London, and said she chose prostate cancer because it is the most common in men and there is a wrong impression that patients do not die from it. International surveys show that it is unpredictable and aggressive, therefore the discovery of strong treatments is an ongoing topic of research in oncology.

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