Athens Digest 26.01.2018

• Lagarde remark on debt calms nerves in Athens, new mission chief due

• Early February penciled in for bond sale date

• Poll: New Democracy maintains strong lead

• Varoufakis announces party to run in the next general election

• Container traffic boost in line with Cosco’s vision for Piraeus

# Government officials have welcomed remarks by Christine Lagarde, the IMF managing director, who publicly called for a swift decision on Greek debt relief.
Lagarde met in Davos yesterday with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, his latest high-level meeting at the World Economic Forum. “I assured the Prime Minister of the Fund’s continued support for Greece’s adjustment program,” she said. “I also underscored that the completion of the reform agenda and provision of debt relief by Greece’s European partners are essential to support sustainable growth and a successful exit from official financing later this year.”
The IMF is reportedly set to replace Delia Velculescu as its mission chief in Greece, with Peter Dohlman, it emerged last night. Dohlman is a senior economist and veteran of programmes/missions in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Iceland.
In Davos, Tsipras also held talks with the EU Finance Commissioner Pierre Moscovici. The French politician tweeted after the talks: “We are preparing the conclusion of the programme in summer 2018, so that Greece can become a “normal” country in the eurozone with a strong strategy for growth and employment.”

# Debt management authorities are eyeing a bond sale in early February, in 2018’s first crucial market test before the bailout programme ends in under seven months. The government is expected to auction a 7-year bond, as the interest rates on Greek debt continues to fall. Yields on 2-year bonds have dropped below 1.5 percent, from nearly 10 percent last February.

# New Democracy has maintained a strong lead over Syriza party, with a 15.5-point advantage, according to the new poll. The ‘Public Issue’ survey said support for the conservatives had dipped slightly to 37 percent, with Syriza at just 21.5.
Syriza marginally narrowed the gap during 2017-Q4 (+2.5%) after granting one-off benefit payments from the country’s budget surplus, while at the same New Democracy lost some ground (-4%).
One significant change was the improvement of the centre-left Movement for Change, a new alliance formed by PASOK. The party polled 13 percent, pulling ahead of the extreme right Golden Dawn, which remained at 8 percent.

# Former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis announced he would launch a new political party in late match to run in the next general election.
His announcement coincided with the third anniversary of Prime Minister Tsipras’ election victory.
“Three years ago today the Greeks decided to rage against the dying of the light. They were betrayed. But never defeated,” Varoufakis said in a tweet.
It is the third splinter party formed by ex-members of Tsipras’ government.

# Chinese transportation giant Cosco has reported 6.4 percent increase in container traffic in 2017 over the year at Piraeus, furthering its goal to transform the Greek port into a European hub for Chinese exports.
The company said container traffic reached 3.69 million TEUs in 2017 compared to 3.47 million TEUs in 2016.
Piraeus currently ranks in 45th place in world rankings of container traffic, according to the World Shipping Council. The Chinese operator wants to boost traffic to 5 million TEUs by the end of this year, a gain that would see Piraeus rise to the top 30.

On our radar: Macedonia calculus
The leaders of Greece and FYROM have announced plans to introduce confidence-building measures and try to resolve a festering Balkan dispute over the republic’s name. But Prime Ministers Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev may not have the votes they need in their respective parliaments. Tsipras’ coalition partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks, opposes a compromise, while Zaev would likely need a two-thirds majority in parliament to make the deal work.
Adding to the complex calculations is the growing opposition from the Greek Orthodox Church, whose elders will hold an emergency meeting on the issue today.
The national clergy association, a rank-and-file organization, has openly backed anti-government demonstrations on the Macedonia issue, urging its members to attend a February 4 rally in Athens.