Athens Digest 21.12.2018

• Greek recovery too reliant on high taxes, says central bank

• Mortgage protection to be extended, for now

• New poll: Double-digit lead for New Democracy

• DESFA deal completed, Snam-led consortium buys 66 percent stake

# Greece’s recovery is being held back by an overreliance on taxes, the large stock of soured loans at banks, and worsening demographics, the Bank of Greece has warned. In its Interim Report on Monetary Policy, the central bank said high taxes have helped deliver primary surpluses but have also hindered growth prospects and hit public investment. Court reversals of various bailout austerity measures, it said, would “weigh negatively on the public debt sustainability analysis.”

# Home-ownership protection regulations are to be extended after the government has failed to finalize substitute reforms by the end of new year. Yannis Dragasakis, the deputy PM, announced the news in parliament, without giving any details on how long the extension would last. The government has conceded that it will end blanket protection from repossession of homes of primary household occupancy, accepting the pressing need to reduce the volume of non-performing loans, amid a growing willingness to target so-called strategic defaulters.

# New Democracy has opened up its lead to 10.5 percentage points over Syriza. A Pulse poll for Skai television gave Kyriakos Mitsotakis’party 33.5 percent support, while Syriza was at 23 percent _ gaining one-point advantage from a month ago. The survey also gave both Golden Dawn and the Movement for Change (former Pasok) 7 percent support, with the Greek Communist Party, KKE), at 6 percent. The Independent Greeks and Potami again fell below the three-percent threshold. The economy continues to be the electorate’s primary concern: 46 percent described it as the next government’s top priority.

# A consortium led by Italy’s Snam SpA, and partnered with Spain’s Enagas Internacional, and Fluxys SA of Belgium has completed the acquisition of a 66 percent stake in Greek natural gas grid operator DESFA. The deal was worth EUR 535 million. It was completed yesterday after the consortium won the tender in April to buy the stake from the Greek privatisation agency HRADF and Hellenic Petroleum. The privatisation deal, hammered out before the end of Greece’s third bailout, was seen by creditors as a test for the country’s commitment to further market reforms.

On our Radar: Referee assault halts matches
Top-flight football matches have been cancelled at the weekend after an international Greek referee was assaulted in his home town of Larissa. Referees said they would abstain from matches following the attack on Thanassis Tzilos, who told police he had been ambushed and beaten by three masked men. The league suspension was a setback for efforts this season to curb violence surrounding the sport _ an effort backed by the use of overseas referees at major league games and the appointment of Portugal’s Vitor Melo Pereira to head the Greek referee commission.