Athens Digest 24.07.2018

• At least 24 dead and 100 injured after fires close to Athens region

• Regling sounds ‘row back’ warning

• July is crunch month for tax takings

• Rent Tracker available soon

# Greece wakes up to a national disaster. Deadly fires near Rafina to the east of Athens and Kineta to the west, left scores of casualties as 80 km/h-winds swept the flames to the sea, burning forestland, cars, and homes in minutes, and leaving vacationers to flee to beaches to be picked up by rescue boats. Until early morning (06.30 CET) 24 deaths and more than 100 injuries had been officially reported. PM Tsipras attributed the tragedy to the “asymmetric weather phenomenon.” Christos Stylianides, the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, responded to a request for help from Athens.

# It’s less than a month till the end of the bailout, and lenders are taking another hard look at scenarios for Greece’s national debt. Athens is keenly awaiting decisions on either side of the Atlantic: Board meetings at the ECB (waiver and QE to be discussed) and IMF (Article IV) on Thursday and Friday. Greek officials expect to get fresh reminders of the country’s grim demographic outlook and the need to continue painful reforms. Klaus Regling, the ESM Managing Director, started the week with a reminder of his own, warning that Athens could not afford another policy reversal. “If it rows back on reforms, some of the additional debt relief measures will be suspended,” he said. “Athens will remain under the scrutiny of the ESM until all loans have been fully repaid. (And) Greece knows that financial markets and investors will constantly monitor and assess the country.”

# Greek budget-watchers have reportedly shifted their sights to the end of this month. The first installments of 2018 income taxes are due, following disappointing results in May. Although revenues have remained relatively strong this year, most of the positives have been attributed to the voluntary disclosure of income and the involuntary payment-seizures. But the Independent Public Revenue Authority has flagged May as a failing month, with tax receipts down nearly 10 percent on the year. Bank of Greece figures, however, showed a sharp improvement in the current account balance: A surplus of EUR 192 million compared to the EUR 658 million deficit in the same month of 2017. That’s thanks to cross-the-board balance improvements, most notably with travel receipts.

# Government officials say a national platform created to track vacation rentals will be running within a week. The Short-Stay Property Register will help the tax office keep up with a surge in demand for services like AirBnB, introducing a system aimed at holding owners accountable. Policing the system will be bolstered by inspections by tax officials posing as clients. Failure to declare the rentals could lead to a fine of up to EUR 5,000.

On our Radar: PPC chief denies rate hike, staff cuts
The head of Greece Public Power Corporation has denied reports that he is readying the company for rate hikes and an early retirement programme to shed staff. CEO Emmanouil Panagiotakis made the remarks to the Vima newspaper despite reports that the McKinsey consulting group had made those recommendations in a five-year plan for PPC. Bidders, meanwhile, have until July 31 to line up consortiums interested in the sale of PPC’s lignite units. The Copelouzos group is likely to join forces with China Energy, in competition with another local-plus-overseas partnership.