In Business this week: Korean Airlines bid for a 44 percent stake in the Czech national carrier Czech Airlines, hackers attack the websites of leading Czech banks and the Prague Stock Exchange, there has been a further growth in unemployment and a drop in spirits sales in the wake of last year’ s methanol poisonings.
Korean Airlines on Monday made an official bid to buy a 44 percent stake in the Czech national carrier Czech Airlines or ČSA. According to Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek the offer of 2.64 million euro is appropriate in terms of price and the size of the share. The finance minister likewise confirmed that Korean Airlines is the currently only serious buyer since Qatar Air which also expressed interest has yet to make an official offer. Korean Air operates passenger flights to 12 cities in Europe, including a non-stop flight to Prague but this is its first attempt to invest in a passenger carrier. If it proves successful it would be the second biggest shareholder in Czech Airlines. The Czech government will make a final decision on the sale in the second half of April. It made a previous unsuccessful attempt at selling off ČSA in 2009.
Hackers attacked the websites of the Czech central bank, several top commercial banks and the Prague Stock Exchange on Wednesday. The websites and internet banking sites of the Czech National Bank, Česká spořitelna, Komerční banka, and ČSOB were down for several hours though spokespersons said clients’ personal data was not compromised. The attacks reportedly came from abroad and were caused by hackers flooding the systems with digital requests to overwhelm servers. The banks have not so far issued estimates of losses sustained.
Unemployment in the Czech Republic, already at a record high at the start of the year, grew to 8.1 percent in February from 8 percent in January. Labour offices registered over 593,000 jobless persons, an increase of close to 8,000 month-on-month. The number of job openings was over 34,500 at the end of February with an average 17 job seekers per vacancy. The growth is in line with analysts’ expectations. The government has promised to invest a billion crowns into curbing unemployment growth, trade unions say six times that much is needed to jump-start growth and create thousands of new jobs.
Spirits sales are reported to have dropped by around 9 percent last year against 2011 due to fear of tainted alcohol in the wake of the methanol poisonings that claimed close to 40 lives in the Czech Republic. In pubs and restaurants sales dropped by 11 percent on average, and by as much as 15 percent in Moravia where the methanol crisis broke out. According to the Union of Spirits Producers and Importers spirits have taken a hit across the board, with Vodka sales dropping by 13 percent, the herbal liquor Becherovka by 12 percent and the rum-flavoured drink Tuzemak by 7.4 percent. The smaller producers have been particularly hard hit. The union does not expect a significant improvement in the coming months.
Interest in the newly introduced second pillar of the Czech pension system is even smaller than expected, according to the results of a Pension Barometer survey conducted by the agency ADW. The poll conducted among 700 respondents now reflects a 4 percent interest from people over 18. An ADW report said interest in the second pillar was never very high and has dropped dramatically in recent weeks. Pension companies are nevertheless still optimistic. They hope that more than half a million people will join the second pillar by mid-2013. In the first two months of this year only 13,500 people opted to join.
Entry into the second pillar is voluntary but irreversible. Persons under 35 years of age can join the second pillar without restriction, while those aged over 35 only have until mid-2013 to make up their minds. Those who decide to do so will be allowed to transfer 3 percent of their pension insurance from the pay-as-you-go system to private insurers to which they will add a further 2% from their own funds. The opposition Social Democrats have said they will abolish the second pillar of the pension reform if they win the next general elections.
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