Probe into Cooperative Bank to examine both pre and post 2013 period

The probe which the government has requested into the Cyprus Cooperative Bank will look into matters before and after 2013, President Nicos Anastasiades said on Thursday.
In statements before a lunch, in Nicosia, hosted by the Embassy of Bulgaria in Cyprus ahead of the conclusion of the EU Bulgarian Presidency, the President clarified that the probe will look into what happened in 2013, that led the government to support the financial institution with €1.5 bln “in order to survive.”
At the same time, the President said that developments in the 2013-2018 period will also be examined, which resulted in €7.5 bln non-performing loans.
Referring to the acquisition of the Cyprus Cooperative Bank by the Hellenic Bank following recommendations to the government by the European supervisory authorities for the liquidation of the Cooperative Bank, the President said that “we were obliged to take a painful decision which protects depositors, stabilizes the banking system and creates future prospects.”
The President called for the adoption of efficient measures, in line with European Commission requirements in order to “address the problem in an efficient and positive manner.”
Asked if there can be a balanced approach to avoid problems that emerged in other countries, for example with foreclosures, the President said that “no doubt, the protection of those who are really unable to pay comes first in our mind.” He said however that the approach towards those who are taking advantage of the situation even though they are able to pay will be different.
Invited to comment on a possible delay by the banks in their effort to deal with NPLs, President Anastasiades indicated that the banks could have handled the situation better, taking into account that those loans will at some point be worth nothing.

He also indicated that the banks could have been more flexible to allow the borrower to pay his loan.
The President expressed hope that the measures that will be adopted by the political parties will acknowledge obligations vis-à-vis the European Commission and lead to a stable banking system.
The government of Cyprus approved a deal on the Cyprus Cooperative Bank, following an offer submitted by the Hellenic Bank.

According to the offer, Hellenic Bank undertakes to pay the whole amount of the clients’ deposits worth €9.7 bln and assumes assets of €10.3 bln, including loans, bonds and cash as well as non-performing loans of €0.5 bln. Assets of the Cooperative amounting to €8.3 bln will be taken over by the state, most of which is non-performing loans.


Source: Stockwatch

Signed MoU on relocation of Larnaca fuel storage facilities submitted to cabinet

Energy Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis said on Wednesday he had submitted a signed memorandum of understanding (MoU) to the cabinet between the government and six private companies for the removal of the fuel storage facilities at Larnaca to Vasiliko in the Limassol district, he said.

Lakkotrypis said that even though the municipalities from the areas in question were not party to the MoU he submitted “for their own reasons”, the plan would go ahead and a timetable had been fixed with a deadline of December 31, 2019 for moving the liquid fuels, and the creation of LPG facilities by December 31, 2020.

Larnaca municipality last month rejected a third draft of the MoU on the relocation of the oil and gas firms from the district by 2020 and was no longer willing to engage in further discussions as long as there was no progress.

Lakkotrypis said after Wednesday’s council of ministers meeting that the cabinet had “authorised me to negotiate with the oil companies…”

“This is the first time that certain companies are bound by their signature on a specific timetable,” he told reporters. He said he informed the mayors.

Asked if there were any incentives given to companies he said: “The incentive is obvious. If you see the tourist map of Cyprus, an area which lends itself to further development of the industry is Larnaca bay which is at the heart of these [fuel] facilities. It is therefore in the interest of those companies holding tracts of land there to relocate and exploit the area for tourism, which both the government and the city of Larnaca wanted, and to this end the ministry of the interior is proceeding already to undertake the necessary planning for the region.”

As regard penalties for the companies if they failed to meet the deadline, Lakkotrypis said a steering committee was being set up, which he would chair every three months to see the progress on the work “whether this will be related either to the government side or the companies” and take steps from there.

One of the previous drafts included the possibility of fines and the termination of a company’s operations for those that don’t comply. Lakkotrypis said at the time it also provided for fines up to €17,000 and legal procedures to strip companies of their licence if they do not stick to timeframes.

Larnaca Mayor Andreas Vyras last month rejected the third draft of the MoU over a clause giving the right to any signatory to opt out of the deal if they wished to, by giving a month’s written notice.

Vyras said the legal services did not give their stamp of approval to the second draft of the MoU and had asked for amendments, leading to a third document, which according to the mayor, defeated the purpose as the aim was to make sure all timeframes given were met by the oil and gas companies.

He had asked for a number of safeguards to be included in the memorandum to make it clear that those who do not apply what they have to do within timeframes, be subject to sanctions.

Also last month President Nicos Anastasiades attended a ceremony to start the demolition of fuel company Petrolina’s tank 15, and said it marked the beginning of the timeframe provided for in the MoU.

In the meantime, it had been announced that the government will next month launch a tender for the purchase of an FSRU (floating, storage and re-gasification unit) and for related infrastructures at Vasiliko a project allowing the island to import liquefied natural gas and use it for electricity generation for the first time

Source: CyprusMail

House poised to pass bill to sweeten sale of debtors’ homes

MPs of the ruling Disy party sounded upbeat on Monday that a series of bills granting tax relief to bank debtors would make it through the plenum.

The House finance committee was discussing five bills which aim to give incentives to people who wish to sell their house as part of restructuring their debt with a bank or to settle a non-performing loan (NPL).

Under the proposals, these persons would be exempt from paying income tax, capital gains tax, property transfer fees, stamp duty and the special defence contribution.

Crucially, the bills under discussion also cover cases where borrowers sell their house on the market, and not just via a debt-for-asset swap with a bank.

Disy leader and MP Averof Neophytou said the legislative proposals had gathered enough momentum in committee, so that it was decided to table them to a plenary session.

Neophytou brushed off concerns that the proposed legislation might incentivise bank debtors who are currently consistent with their payments, to become delinquent so that they can benefit from the tax relief offered.

“No serious lawmaker would author a bill opening a backdoor NPLs to skyrocket,” the Disy boss said.

He noted that the legislation contained safeguards, such as that it would apply only to debt which was classified as non-performing as at December 31, 2015.

“We wanted to cover borrowers who, due to the financial squeeze, were unable to cope with their loan payments…it is not our goal to provide strategic defaulters an additional tool,” he said.

“And we at Disy will be very harsh on these strategic defaulters,” he added.

The purpose of the legislation is to “help borrowers, poor people, small and medium-sized businesses who, because of the economic crisis, could not temporarily keep up with their instalments”.

For their part, main opposition Akel were sceptical about who would ultimately benefit.

MP Stefanos Stefanou said it was disconcerting that, despite repeated calls, both the finance ministry as well as the Central Bank have failed to provide detailed data on NPLs.

“Knowing the overall value of NPLs is not enough. We need to know what percentage do these strategic defaulters account for, and who these people are.”

The International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission have warned Cyprus of the dangers of not reducing NPLs on banks’ balance sheets. They say that the slow pace of NPL reduction is chiefly due to a weak foreclosures system.

According to the latest available data, delinquent loans in the Cypriot banking system are at €22.1bn.

Source: CyprusMail

Vacancies up 11% in Q1, Cystat says

The number of vacancies in the economy rose an annual 11 per cent in the first quarter, to 3,761, and by 497 compared to the fourth quarter of 2017, the statistical service said.

The ratio of vacancies to jobs in the first quarter rose to 1.2 per cent from 1 per cent in the fourth quarter and 1.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2017, Cystat said in a statement on its website on Thursday. The highest ratios were 3.2 per cent in the administrative and support services and 3.1 per cent in hospitality.


Source: CyprusMail

Cyprus economy grew 4% in Q1 2018

Cyprus' GDP increased by 4% in the first quarter of 2018, over the corresponding quarter of 2017, higher than the initial estimation.
According to data released on Friday by the Statistical Service of Cyprus, the growth rate of the economy in the first quarter of 2018 is positive and is estimated at 4% based on seasonally and working day adjusted data, compared to the corresponding quarter of 2017.

On May 15, the Statistical Service issued a preliminary estimate that expected GDP to grow by 3.8% in the first quarter of 2018.

The increase of the GDP growth rate is mainly attributed to the sectors: "Hotels and Restaurants", "Retail and Wholesale Trade", "Construction", "Manufacturing", "Professional, scientific and technical activities" and "Administrative and support service activities".

Compared to the fourth quarter of 2017 GDP grew by 1%, higher than the preliminary estimate by the Statistical Service on 15 May 2018 which was 0,8%.


Source: StockWatch

Petrides: Cyprus will profit from the reformed common European asylum system

Cyprus will benefit from the reform of the Common European Asylum System, as the country has already surpassed its share under the new method of redistribution of asylum seekers, according to Interior Minister Konstantinos Petrides. The Minister of Interior, Konstantinos Petrides, represented today Cyprus in the works of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council ( Home Affairs agenda ) held yesteday in Luxembourg, where the main topics were the effective management of the high migratory pressures in the Member States, as well as the revision of the European asylum system.

As far as asylum is concerned, the Interior Minister in his intervention has maintained a clear position in favor of the establishment of a Common Asylum System, which will be fair and balanced and will in fact support Member States of the front line.

In this context, the Minister stressed that it has been possible to include in the text (pending the EU leaders approval) the introduction of concrete measures to alleviate the pressure of frontline countries, including Cyprus. In the context of the ongoing negotiations, Cyprus has shown a spirit of cooperation, while at the same time highlighting the pressure it faces as a frontline member state.

"This is the first time that the disproportionate burden of the Mediterranean countries is also recognized by legislative provision, which includes measures to redistribute beneficiaries of protection equally between all EU Member States despite the strong reaction of some partners", the Minister explains in a written statement issued after the conclusion of the JHA Council.

According to the Minister, the new method of redistributing asylum seekers tabled will take into account both the size and the population of the Member States, which, he said, "makes Cyprus within the first Member States to benefit from the implementation of these measures, should the agreement be approved by the leaders at the European Council next June, and given that Cyprus has already exceeded its share. "

The Minister notes that the issue will be on the agenda of the European Council summit on 28-29 June and the EU 28 will seek an overall agreement.

The main purpose of the review of the European Asylum System is to harmonize the asylum and reception systems of the Member States, to effectively address the phenomenon of abusive applications by persons using the asylum route for economic migration, to determine the Member State responsible for the examination of asylum applications and the provision of support measures to the first-line Member States, in the form of practical solidarity.

With regard to immigration in general, the Minister, in his written statement, notes that this is an issue directly affecting Cyprus, since migratory pressures in the eastern Mediterranean show a systematic upward trend. Indicatively, it is reported that only for the period January - May 2018, asylum applications were submitted to Cyprus by 2174 people, a significantly higher number than in previous years.

The Minister stressed that a steady and systematic increase in arrivals causes substantial pressure on Cyprus as a first-line member, due to its geographic proximity to the Middle East, and Cyprus therefore attaches great importance to the positive outcome of the negotiations.


Source: Stockwatch

Macau: a world of glitz

THE official ground-breaking ceremony for the much-anticipated casino resort complex that is due to open west of Limassol in 2021 will be held on June 8, and a group of Cypriot journalists were taken to Macau recently to get a better understanding of how Melco Resorts and Entertainment, a partner in the Integrated Casino Resorts Cyprus Consortium which has the contract to build the Cyprus resort, run their operations in other countries.

As well as several venues dubbed the City of Dreams in Macau, which feature various entertainment options, an array of different types of accommodation, regional and international dining spots, designer brand shopping and, of course, a huge casino, the company has operations in the Philippines and Russia, and is hoping that the Cyprus resort will tap into the lucrative Middle East market.

Designer shopping malls run right round the perimeter of the hotel

Melco CEO Lawrence Ho estimates that, as well as attracting an additional 300,000 tourists a year to the island, the €550 million City of Dreams Mediterranean is expected to account for about four per cent of Cyprus’ GDP and create around 4,000 jobs annually during the construction period. When it is fully operational, the casino will generate approximately 4,500 direct and indirect full-time jobs.

The trip to Macau included a visit to the new flagship hotel for the City of Dreams complex, scheduled to open on June 21: the eye-catching super-luxury Morpheus hotel, designed by the late Dame Zaha Hadid. The building is the world’s first free-form exoskeleton high rise building with sculpted voids and featuring two sky bridges, five different glazing systems and a non-repetitive doubly-curved aluminium cladding. It is, frankly, extraordinary, and reflects Lawrence Ho’s mantra of “can we do this better?”

The Morpheus Hotel was designed by Zaha Hadid

The first thing that strikes you when you arrive in Macau is the glitz: we arrived at night, and the whole city is a glare of garish lights – huge high-rise buildings illuminated from top to bottom, inside and out. We stayed at Studio City, a hotel/casino at the end of the strip surrounded by construction sites (yet more buildings in the offing). The suites are located in the ‘Star Tower’, and the rooms in the ‘Celebrity Tower’. The facilities are five-star and include a Spa that boasts a ‘snow room’ for after your sauna, extensive designer brand shopping malls running around the edge of the building and a large children’s play area with rides and interactive games. Then there’s the Batman 4D Dark Flight and the Golden Reel – the world’s highest figure of 8 Ferris wheel on the front of the building. At the heart of the hotel is the casino, an enormous room packed with baccarat and roulette tables and literally hundreds of slot machines.

The layout of the other hotels in the City of Dreams is similar: at the core are the gaming rooms, accessible from entrances on every side of the hotel, so you are never too far from having a flutter whether you are shopping, eating or just wandering around. The dining options are many: each hotel has a Michelin-starred restaurant (some have two) and it’s clear that the clientele expect the best – and are willing to pay for it. The Cyprus consortium also aims to proffer Michelin-starred dining.

The entertainment offered is high tech, like the Batman Dark Flight, whooshing you through the streets of Gotham City battling the Joker and the caped crusader’s other enemies and the House of Dancing Water, the world’s largest water-based show with a pool that holds 17 million litres of water (that’s more than five Olympic-sized swimming pools).

The Morpheus sky pool

It’s an extraordinary show with acrobats, dancers, divers and motorcyclists performing stunts in this theatre-in-the-round, where the stage is sometimes deep water (the divers at the end leap from a 24-metre-high platform) and sometimes a solid floor, which appears and disappears thanks to eleven hydraulic ten-ton elevators underneath. Performers are winched from the ceiling or fly in from above on bungee-style ribbons or appear from under the water, with the spectacle enhanced by special lighting effects and some 240 fountains which rise up to 18 metres.

Wherever you go in this area of Macau, everything is “bigger” “better” “higher” “brighter”. You certainly need a head for heights looking down from the upper floors of these towering hotels, and the guests seemed uninterested in the swimming pools and outdoor facilities, spending their time in the air-conditioned interior – and, of course, the gaming rooms, which never close.

The brief glimpse we got of old Macau city centre was a world apart: architecture harking back to the Portuguese colonial times and tiny, busy shops jostling for space in charming narrow streets, a far cry from the brash boulevards of Cotai where the casinos are located.

When I spoke to Lawrence Ho I asked him about the necessity of taking local culture into account when he built a new casino, and he agreed it was important. He told me that the Cyprus complex will draw inspiration from Greek mythology: “that’s always very important to us” he said “because we never cookie-cut anything. We are very respectful to the local cultures and also, our guests, when they want to go to a new destination, they don’t want to see the same thing every single time”.

The pros and cons of legalising this type of gambling on the island have been discussed at length since the licence was granted and those in favour point to the jobs it will create and the revenue it will generate. I spoke to the Executive Vice-President & Chief Officer, Human Resources of Melco in Macau, Akiko Takahashi, who enthused about the company’s care of its employees. She explained that Lawrence Ho had “a tremendous commitment to the concept of people” and added “we demonstrate the commitment to people in many things that we do – whether it’s their experience at the heart of house” (ie behind the scenes) “or their internal career opportunity where they feel that they come in for one job but they certainly have the opportunity to progress their career throughout the resort”.

A bathroom in a Star Tower suite

The ‘heart of house’ we visited revealed easy access for job seekers to find what was available, a room where their uniforms were kept after cleaning and whisked on a conveyer to each employee upon a swipe of their card, changing rooms with lockers, a staff canteen where there is a wide choice of meals provided free and adjoining rooms for resting or sleeping and one with rolling movies (this was, after all, Studio City with its Hollywood theme).

Those against gambling often talk about families made destitute by gambling addiction, and when I raised this point I was assured that problem customers can be banned from entering if the family requests this.

City of Dreams Mediterranean will include 136 tables and 1,200 gaming machines, a five-star hotel with luxurious villas and 500 hotel rooms, 11 restaurants and cafeterias and 9,600 square metres of facilities for meetings, conventions, and events. It will also include a 1,200-sq. metre retail area, ‘replicating the streetscape of the old Nicosia city centre’.

It is set to start operating in 2021. In the meantime a temporary facility will open in Limassol this summer followed by satellite casinos in Nicosia, Larnaca, the free Famagusta area and Paphos.

Source: CyprusMail

Uncertainty and energy costs the major barriers for investments in Cyprus

Uncertainty, energy costs, regulation, skills and access to finance are the major impediments for future investments in Cyprus according to European Investment Bank (EIB) Survey on Investment and Investment Finance for Cyprus in 2017.

The Survey was presented Thursday by EIB Director of Economics Department, Debora Revoltella, during an economic conference in Nicosia, organized by EIB in cooperation with the Nicosia Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The survey also showed that investment activity recovered in Cyprus during 2017, but investment levels were still below the pre-crisis levels. Infrastructure investment is lower relative to the pre-crisis period and corporates undertake the largest part of infrastructure investment in relation to public infrastructure investment.

Regarding the areas of public investment that are a necessary priority over the next 3 years, four in ten firms in Cyprus (38%) cited hospital/health care infrastructure. That figure was above the levels reported in any other EU country, and more than 4 times higher than the EU average of 8%.

Services sector more optimistic

According to the findings, the highest proportion of firms expecting to increase their investment in the current financial year is in services sector. Investment outlook is still positive with no investment contraction expected in 2017. Yet, the outlook was less positive in 2017 relative to 2016.
From the six investment areas asked about, most investment in Cyprus is in machinery and equipment (39%), followed by land, business buildings and infrastructure (22%) and software, data and IT (16%). This pattern is broadly similar to the last survey’s wave as well as to the EU-wide findings.

Similar to the findings of the previous survey, the services sector has by far the highest share of firms investing in land, business buildings and infrastructure (34%).

Among all firms, almost four in ten (39%) developed or introduced new products, processes or services as part of their investment activities. The innovation in Cyprus is mostly at the local level with less than 1% of the companies innovating globally.

Firms in the services sector were more likely than others to exhibit high levels of innovation with 65% of these firms indicated that the products, processes or services were new to the firm or country, while a further 2% provided innovative solutions at the world level.

 In Cyprus, 28% of the firms reported too little investments over the last 3 years. The particular “investment gap” is above the EU average of 15%. It is also the third largest figure across the EU.

Four in ten firms in Cyprus (42%) report operating at or above maximum capacity in the last financial year. The particular figure is below the EU average (53%).

The main obstacles

Around nine in ten firms in Cyprus consider uncertainty about the future (90%) and energy costs (89%) as obstacles to investment activities.
Business regulations and availability of skilled staff were mentioned as barriers to investment by around seven in ten firms on average, and specifically by around 9 in 10 firms in the services sector.

While the overall pattern of results is similar to the EU, some of the investment obstacles are reported more often by firms in Cyprus. These include energy costs, availability of finance and uncertainty about the future.

In Cyprus, the 2017 EIB Investment Survey examined investment by 150 firms and identified a marked improvement in access to external financing. Only 6% of firms surveyed were “financially constrained”, which is slightly under the EU average.

Firms in Cyprus are more likely to have funded investment through internal funds (80%) than external (20%), compared to the EU average figures of 62% and 35% respectively. The particular figure of internal finance is the second largest in the EU. 

Bank loans account for the highest share of external finance (81%) in Cyprus. The particular figure, is the second highest in the EU, and together with the share of other bank finance (17%), it confirms the dominant role of the banking sector in providing external finance to firms in Cyprus.

Small/micro companies demonstrate relatively more diversified sources of external finance than larger firms, with bank loans contributing to 64%.

“While investment slowly recovers, there is still evidence of 20% of firms having no investment plans for the next 3 years, as a sign of some remaining legacy and need of transformation", said Revoltella.

EIB to support energy efficiency

Vice President, European Investment Bank Jonathan Taylor, said that the EIB will continue to support investment both under the investment plan for Europe and with its traditional lending products, to help bring back growth and development and further improve Cyprus’ economic situation.
He also said he was pleased to say that they had a significant pipeline of EFSI related projects, up to 260 million, in supporting private sector investment by small and medium size enterprises for energy efficiency. 

Addressing the conference President of Nicosia Chamber of Commerce and Industry Stelios Anastasiades said that for the last six years, the European Investment Bank has been supporting Cyprus’s efforts for economic recovery and growth by promoting key investments exceeding 1 .7 billion euros with funding spread across all sectors of the Cyprus economy, including SMEs, energy, education, transport, environment, urban regeneration and many more. As he said, in 2017, EIB’s investment to the public and private sector of the island has reached over 333 million euros which amounts to 1,8% of the country’s GDP.


Source: Stockwatch

RICS: Property prices increase in Q4 2017

Property prices in Cyprus increased in the fourth quarter of 2017, as recorded by the the thirty-third publication of RICS’ Cyprus Property Price Index, released Tuesday.

According to a press release, across Cyprus, residential prices for both houses and flats increased on a quarterly basis by 0.8% and 1.4% respectively, with the biggest increase recorded in Larnaca with quarterly increase of 2.7% for flats followed by Limassol with a quarterly increase of 1.5% for houses.

Values for holiday homes on a quarterly basis across Cyprus increased by 0.4% for flats and 0.3% for houses. Paphos showed the highest quarterly increases for holiday apartments with an increase of 1.33% and Paralimni for holiday homes with an increase of 0.9%.

Across Cyprus, on an annual basis (compared to Q4 2016), prices for flats increased by 7.1%, for houses by 4.3%, for offices by 8.3%, warehouses by 4.4% and retail by 3.1%. Across Cyprus, on an annual basis for flats and houses the highest increase was in Limassol with 11.1% and 12.6% respectively, for offices Nicosia with 17.7%, for warehouses and retail the highest increase was in Nicosia with 9.3% and 4.2% respectively.

Across Cyprus, on a quarterly basis rental values increased by 2.9% for apartments, 1.9% for houses, 0.6% for retail, 2.5% for offices and 0.2% for warehouses. Compared to Q4 2016, rents increased annually by 13.7% for flats, 8.2% for houses, 5.9% for retail, 19.2% for offices and for warehouses 1.8%.

The RICS Cyprus Property Price Index monitors the urban centres of Nicosia, Limassol, Larnaca, Paphos and Paralimni- Famagusta. The Index only tracks prices in the area controlled by the Republic of Cyprus’ government and not in the occupied by Turkey northern part of the island.


Source: Stockwatch

Department seeks help of private appraisers

The Department of Lands and Surveys will soon invite tenders from private property appraisers to take part in efforts to reassess the value of some two million properties at current prices.

Limited interest was expressed after the first tender invitation last March. The move is part of ongoing efforts to update property values, at 1st January 2018 prices. The only other evaluation was carried out in 1980, and the authorities often refer to property values at 1980 prices.

Director of the department, Andreas Socratous, said it was decided to entrust part of the general property valuation process to the private sector.

He said that a limited number of private appraisers expressed interest during the tender competition announced last March, but that another competition will be announced soon, “to give the opportunity to more private appraisers to participate”.

One of the main reasons for the low interest shown was that most of the private offices were very busy with loan restructurings, he said. Another reason, was that “some of the terms we had originally set and which related to experience or previous work were a bit strict and we will change them now”.

Socratous told the Cyprus News Agency that until the entire bidding process was completed, “the Department of Lands and Surveys carries on with its own work in a way that the general appraisal process would be completed as soon as possible”. He added that the contribution of the private appraisers would be complementary to the work carried out by the department.

At the moment, local government was assisting the department to fill in some gaps as regards the area of real estate in square metres while the private sector would then assist in efforts to assess the value of real estate per square metre, per area and age of the property.


Source: CyprusMail

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