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Carrefour in Bulgaria September 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy.
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Carrefour Marinopoulos will invest an estimated total of 81.5 million euros for the creation of its shopping center in Sofia, which in 12 months will include the first hypermarket of the group, as well as another 200 stores at least in its 90,000 square meters.

It will also open another Carrefour inside the Mall of Cyprus in Nicosia, besides its existing nine stores on the island. In Greece, the company agreed with US group BCBG Max Azria to distribute the latter’s low-cost clothing brand “Tex by Max Azria.”

Piraeus Bank completes acquisition of Ukraine bank September 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy.
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Piraeus Bank has completed the buyout of Ukraine’s International Commerce Bank (ICB) after approval by supervisory authorities in Greece and Ukraine, the bank said yesterday.

Greece’s fourth-largest lender closed the deal to buy ICB in May as part of its plans to expand in the region. Piraeus said it paid $75.3 million for a 99.6 percent stake. ICB, founded in 1994, has a network of 133 outlets in 38 cities throughout Ukraine, employs 910 people and has more than 25,000 customers.

Piraeus Bank has international operations in eight countries, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Serbia, Egypt, Ukraine, the UK and the USA, with a network of 413 branches and a staff of 5,140.

Action necessary on Cyprus building boom September 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Cyprus.
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Authorities in Cyprus need to take prudent new measures to tame a construction boom that threatens the soundness of the country’s banking system just as it is about to adopt the euro, economists said.

Despite a newly reduced ceiling on lending for holiday-home buyers, bank credit grew in August by an annual 25 percent, as investors sought to beat the introduction of value-added tax to land sales from the end of this year.

The availability of cheap loans that has been stoking the construction boom could even increase when Cyprus joins the eurozone in January since the bloc’s interest rates are currently half a percentage point lower than those of Cyprus.

“There is currently a bubble in the real estate market, comparable to what we had at the stock exchange between 1999 and 2000,” said Yiannis Telonis from Hellenic Bank. However, he cautioned that construction was the economy’s locomotive at present, and there would be negative consequences if it were slowed down too abruptly. “It is not up to the Central Bank to fix this problem. It is an issue of the government’s general economic, development and social policy,” he said.

Economist Marios Mavrides said imposing a property tax could go some way to addressing the problem, as could halving the island’s capital gains tax to 10 percent to make alternative investments more attractive. “But if they take too drastic action, property prices will suffer and so will mortgages,” he added.

Central Bank Governor Athanasios Orphanides warned yesterday of probable risks for the banking system, should credit expansion persist as a result of local banks competing intensely to boost profits and market share.

According to price tracker BuySell Home Price Index, house prices increased 9.7 percent in July year-on-year and 1.8 percent compared to June. The average lending rate for housing loans has fallen since Cyprus’s EU accession in May 2004 from 7.3 percent to 5.94 percent in July this year.

Mavrides said he could not rule out a scenario similar to that of the US subprime loans mess, and a repetition of 2002 and 2003, when Cypriot bank results were battered by exposure to a poorly performing stock market. Mavrides said a speculative bubble behind property inflation was mainly rooted in VAT introduction. It was introduced on buildings in 2004, and will apply to land sales from 2008.

Once the VAT target date was passed, Mavrides said demand for real estate was likely to decrease as investors took more account of price-to-income ratios in assessing the value of real estate deals. Mavrides said there was a danger that in two or three years clients would experience difficulties in paying back their debts. “The expected decrease in interest rates as a result of euro adoption will not be able to offset the decrease in demand,” he said.

Mavrides’s views on the effect of lending on the banks’ profitability are not shared by bankers. “We are not concerned that the quality of our asset portfolio will be affected as we have not relaxed the criteria for the approval of new loans we introduced years ago,” Yiannis Kypri from Bank of Cyprus said. The Bank of Cyprus policy followed Central Bank guidelines and offered the bank a protective “cushion” to offset risks of a probable decline in property price, Kypri added.

In 2006 the direct contribution of the construction sector to the island’s GDP was 7.5 percent. One in 10 Cypriots worked in the construction industry in 2004.

Fires appear to have had minimal effect on Greek tourism September 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News, Tourism.
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Greece’s recent devastating forest fires have had scant impact on the country’s overall tourism, as cancellations by tour operators were restricted to the affected areas, mostly in the Peloponnese.

The number of visitors, excluding economic migrants, is estimated to grow by about 7-8 percent, approaching 17 million. The last three-year period has cumulatively been the best in terms of arrivals in 15 years, after four difficult years which ended in 2004, when the number of visitors, including those arriving for the Olympics, reached 13 million that year.

The picture for 2008 is so far unclear, as the medium-term impact of the forest fires cannot be easily assessed. The latest data, for the January-May period, show a rise of 3.5 percent for this year. They also show a realignment of dispersion among destinations, a well as changes in the numbers from the countries of origin of visitors, which indicates that Greek tourism is developing a new phase of maturity requiring specialized studies at regional level and marketing approaches.

This growth momentum has been maintained irrespective of strong demand for competitive destinations in near-by countries. Part of the growth in 2006 had been partly attributed to a reduction in demand for Turkey, which faced various problems. The euro/dollar parity continues to be developing unfavorably for destinations in the eurozone, but the Turkish lira has also risen by about 12 percent against the euro this year.

The Tourism Ministry has already announced a series of relief measures for the industry in fire-ravaged areas. A senior tourism official said that the “battle” for next year’s season on foreign markets will have to be launched in November, beginning with the World Travel Market (WTM) in London. He also argues that a possible stabilization in the number of visitors at present levels should not be seen as failure, given the steep rise in recent years. WTM this year will feature a congress on global climatic changes and how they influence the tourism industry.

Akrotiri roof headed for repair September 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece.
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Repair work on the shelter roof over the Akrotiri archaeological site on the island of Santorini is expected to start in three months, two years after the site was shut down due to a fatal accident.

Sources said yesterday that work on the roof which collapsed in September 2005 and killed a tourist is scheduled to be completed by the end of next year. “I believe that the work is moving in the right direction. The architectural and bioclimatic design is not being changed by the study,” architect Nikos Fintikakis, who designed the roof, said.

A huge steel roof covering the ancient Minoan city caved in when workers were watering soil laid on it, killing a man and injuring six others.

The prehistoric town of Aktrotiri was one of the chief urban centers in the Aegean until its destruction in a huge volcanic blast in the 17th century BC. The site, a major tourist attraction for the popular island, has been shut since the accident after continual delays to repair the damage. Ministry sources had said last year that the repair work will be complete by October, 2007.

“They are repairing and boosting the roof. This helps improve its static strength. It needs time,” added Fintikakis. However, the long chain of time-consuming procedures has not yet been completed as plans still need to be approved by one more expert. A leading expert from Imperial College London will be called on to approve the plans, sources added.

The Culture Ministry was examining taking over responsibility for the project from the Archaeology Association in a bid to help speed up the process; however, the necessary legislation needed for the changeover was not passed due to the elections.

Effort to save Athens landmark buildings September 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece, Arts Museums.
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The Technical Chamber of Greece (TEE) yesterday sent a letter to Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis, calling on him to reject a decision by the Ministry’s Central Archaeological Council (KAS) to demolish a protected art deco building in central Athens.

Plans to knock down No 17 Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, along with an adjacent protected building at No 19, in order to open up the view from the new Acropolis Museum, are “a crime against our cultural heritage,” according to a statement issued by TEE, an association of engineers that advises the state.

The decision by KAS, signed on August 30 but made public late on Wednesday, revokes state protection for the elegant structure, a listed building. In its letter to the Minister, TEE asks Voulgarakis to help reinstate it as a protected building.

Architects, conservationists and local residents have launched an online campaign to protect the 1930s building, along with an adjacent neoclassical house owned by award-winning composer Vangelis Papathanassiou, which is also slated for demolition.

The buildings have to be removed to provide the desired “optical connection” between the new Acropolis Museum and the Parthenon, Cultural Ministry sources had been quoted as saying in July. The new Museum, which is to open its doors to the public next year after long delays, currently has its view of the Parthenon obscured by the rear of the two buildings, which are rundown, unlike their impressive facades.

Going to the theater in Ancient Greece September 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture History Mythology.
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In ancient Greece going to the theater was a communal, religious event, since the spring plays were a form of welcoming back the fertility of the land.

Going to the plays was a gesture of solidarity with one’s fellow citizens as well as a reminder of how the world worked and where each person stood in the scheme of things.