Rick Steves’ Europe
January 31, 2012
Rick Steves’ Europe
January 31, 2012
NEW YORK |
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Stocks and the euro slid on Monday on worries Greek and Portuguese debt loads could weigh on regional and global growth, although hopes the U.S. economy could decouple from European woes helped U.S. equities close off the day’s lows.
A rise in the yield on Portuguese government bonds to more than 17 percent, the highest level since the launch of the euro, sparked fears that Lisbon will follow in Greece’s footsteps and require a second bailout.
A European Union summit on Monday that was to focus on reviving growth and creating jobs failed to deliver the hoped-for message of optimism as Greece and its private bondholders continued to struggle to reach a restructuring deal.
“Until this deal is actually done, there are going to be concerns. The longer it takes there is more suspicion that there is something wrong,” said Michael Yoshikami, chief investment strategist at YCMNet Advisors in Walnut Creek, California. “They’ve been saying they’re on the verge of a deal for a long time.”
Greece must reach a debt swap deal with its private creditors in order to secure its second bailout package, which Athens needs to meet a 14.5 billion euro repayment on its debt due in mid-March. Otherwise Greece faces a messy default and, some say, a potential euro-zone exit.
The spread between Portuguese and German 10-year government bond yields widened past 1,500 basis points for the first time in the euro era on Monday, and the cost of insuring Portuguese debt against default also hit fresh peaks.
The euro plunged against the dollar, surrendering an early six-week high, and dropped to a 4-1/2-month low versus the safe-haven Swiss franc.
“After so many disappointments and debate on the Greek issue, the market is expecting very little to be agreed to in the short term,” said Michael Woolfolk, a senior currency strategist at BNY Mellon in New York.
The single currency was last down 0.75 percent at $1.3125, according to Reuters data.
Against the Swiss franc, the euro fell to a 4-1/2-month low of 1.2034 francs before recovering to trade at 1.2050 francs, according to Reuters data.
In the United States, the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI dropped 6.74 points, or 0.05 percent, to 12,653.72. The Standard Poor’s 500 Index .SPX dropped 3.31 points, or 0.25 percent, to 1,313.02. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC dropped 4.61 points, or 0.16 percent, to 2,811.94.
Nevertheless, stocks closed off the day’s lows on hopes U.S. markets can decouple from Europe’s troubles, with money managers, some of whom missed the upward move, buying on dips.
European shares closed at a two-week low as banks bore the brunt of the sell-off.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index .FTEU3 of top European shares ended down 1 percent at 1,030.43, the lowest close since mid-January, after a six-month high last week.
The STOXX Europe 600 banking index .SX7P fell 3.1 percent, with French banks the worst hit after President Nicolas Sarkozy’s restated plan for a financial transaction tax, with an August target date, heated up the debate on more stringent legislation in the country.
Societe Generale, BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole (CAGR.PA) dropped 6.5 to 7.1 percent.
The MSCI world equity index .MIWD00000PUS was down 0.58 percent at 315.86 after it weakened in Asian trade after markets reopened following the long Lunar New Year holidays. The benchmark index hit its highest level since August last week after the U.S. Federal Reserve pledged to keep interest rates near zero for the next three years.
U.S. and European data did little to boost investor confidence.
Consumer spending in the United States was flat in December as households took advantage of the largest rise in income in nine months to boost their savings, setting the tone for a slowdown in demand early in 2012.
While business confidence in the euro zone strengthened in January for the first time since early 2011, analysts said the data masked a growing gap in performance between Germany and the rest of Europe.
“We expect the recession in the euro zone will end in the spring,” said Christoph Weil, an economist at Commerzbank. “But we can also see that the divergence in the euro zone is increasing and that is of great concern.”
Euro zone sovereign debt supply outlook 2012:
Euro zone debt crisis graphics: r.reuters.com/hyb65p
Portugal, Italy, Ireland sovereign bond spreads:
Brent crude oil futures extended losses in volatile trading as supply disruption fears eased after the Iranian parliament postponed a debate about halting crude exports to the European Union. In London, ICE Brent crude for March delivery settled at $110.75 a barrel, dropping 71 cents.
In New York, U.S. March crude fell 78 cents to settle at $98.78 a barrel, after trading from $98.43 to $100.05.
Gold hit a high of $1,739 an ounce at one point, its highest since December 8, but then edged down to $1,728.55 an ounce. Analysts said they expected gold to recover from Monday’s bout of weakness, especially given the impasse over the restructuring of Greece’s debt burden.
ESCAPE gives you the insiders look into of five the best travel deals this week.
Holiday in Hawaii
SAVE 50 per cent off a five-night stay at Sheraton Princess Kaiulani in Hawaii when you book online with Worldwide Holidays.
The price for two adults in a standard room, is from $614. Upgrade to a high ocean-view room from $750 a room. Valid until sold out for travel until March 31.
The Sheraton Princess Kaiulani is in Waikiki on the former estate of Hawaii’s last princess and is close to shops, restaurants and bars.
Ph 9037 0397 or see worldwideholidays.com.au
Save on Turkey tour
ASIAQUEST Tours has reduced the price of its 25-day tour of Turkey and Greece from $8980 to $7280 a person, twin share, for departures in May and September.
The price of the small-group tour includes airfares from all capital cities with Singapore Airlines, 4-star hotel accommodation, all tours, entrance fees, all meals, taxes, fuel levies and gratuities.
Travellers will enjoy dinner and a show in Istanbul, dinner and folkloric show in the old city of Athens and three nights on the Greek island of Santorini. Must book by February 15, unless sold out prior.
Ph 1800 144 738 and quote ESCAPE DEAL or email [email protected]
Japan trip blossoms
SAVE $250 off a 12-day tour of Japan during cherry blossom time with InterAsia.
The tour visits Tokyo, Kamakura, Hakone, Matsumoto, Takayama, Shirakawago, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Okayama, Himeji, Kyoto, Nara and Osaka.
Priced at $6230 after the discount (plus taxes/levies of about $680 each. Price includes flights with Singapore Airlines from Australia. Must book by February 10.
Ph 1300 133 001 and quote ESCAPE DEAL or visit your travel agent to book.
Bound for Africa
ENJOY a $450 discount off Africa Bound’s 15-day accommodated safari for a May 23 departure from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.
Now priced at $2558 a person based on two people travelling together the safari offers mid-range accommodation and comfort as well as an authentic African safari experience.
Highlights include Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, as well as the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park in Botswana.
This is a small-group safari with 14 nights in fixed accommodation in national parks. It starts and finishes at Victoria Falls. A local payment of $US350 a person also applies. Book and pay by March 31.
Ph (07) 5504 5901 or see africabound.com.au
Walk in history
RECEIVE a $500 discount a person or $1200 a couple off the cost of a 10-day Northern Italian Lakes walking tour.
The tour will take you through Verona, the home of Romeo and Juliet, to Lake Garda and Lake Como and the shores of Lake Maggiore before finishing in Milan.
The tour includes 4 to 5-star accommodation, breakfasts, four lunches, five dinners, fully guided walks by Italian-speaking guides, airport/hotel transfers and transport throughout the tour and entry into many churches and museums. Tour departs Venice on June 14.
Normally $6450, the price is now $5950 a person. Book by February 29.
Ph 1300 459 069 and quote ESCAPE DEAL or see cadencetours.com.au
BERLIN—Germany’s finance minister issued an unusually blunt warning that the euro zone might refuse to grant Greece a fresh bailout, pushing Athens into default unless it persuades Europe it can overhaul its state and economy.
“Greece needs to decide,” Wolfgang Schäuble said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, when asked whether the euro zone would grant or withhold the second bailout package for the country since 2010, expected to be in excess of €130 billion ($172 billion).
Europe is “prepared to support Greece” with the new loan package, Mr. Schäuble said, but he warned: “Unless Greece implements the …
Three of Belgium‘s biggest unions are expected to bring Brussels to a standstill on Monday and complicate the arrival of EU leaders for a summit that is their first attempt this year to resolve the single currency and sovereign debt crisis.
Air travel will be seriously disrupted, public transport halted, and roads blocked in the 24-hour strike called to protest against the austerity packages raining down on the EU, with the new Belgian government seeking to lower its debt by raising taxes, slashing benefits and laying off workers.
The issues behind the strike are the same as those on the agenda for the summit. Greece’s desperate plight hovers over the meeting, although formally there is no mention of Greece on the agenda or in the statements drafted for the meeting.
Instead the leaders of the 27 governments will discuss how to underpin an EU recovery – of which there is absolutely no sign – with “smart growth” policies, which would entail medium-term structural reforms, cutting labour costs, reshaping labour markets and redirecting surplus EU budget funds towards the eurozone periphery, where the debt crisis is hitting hardest.
The leaders are also to finalise two new treaties directly dealing with the euro crisis.
The first is the German-led “fiscal compact” which supersedes the currency’s rulebook, the stability pact, by enshrining debt and deficit ceilings across the eurozone, giving Brussels greater powers to enforce compliance and penalise offenders, and making the fines imposed on delinquents more automatic and less open to political abuse.
The second treaty sets up the eurozone’s new permanent bailout fund, the European stability mechanism (ESM), which is to come into operation a year earlier than planned in July with a kitty of €500bn (£420bn). The two treaties are explicitly linked, at Berlin’s insistence. From March next year, a country in need will not be able to tap the bailout fund unless it has signed up to the other treaty and the stiff new fiscal and budgetary rules.
Much remains to be resolved on the new measures and the two treaties may not be concluded on Monday. “Political agreement” among the leaders should be reached, but contentious points may not be settled for several weeks.
Britain has no part in the fiscal compact, and the Czech Republic and Sweden – also outside the euro – may not take part, leaving 24 countries to sign up. As the biggest non-euro country hoping to sign the pact, Poland is demanding a seat at the table in the system of eurozone summits that is part of the new regime, while France is leading the resistance.
On the ESM treaty, setting up an incipient European monetary fund, the key issue is whether its €500bn firewall is enough to fend off the bond markets. Germany, as the key player, is resisting calls from Christine Lagarde, the IMF chief, for a bigger fund. The Americans, British, Italians and French support her. On Sunday, the Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann, joined the chorus calling for the fund to be increased.
The likelihood is that it will be boosted to around €750bn by adding the money from the current temporary bailout fund, but not for a few months, as Berlin is determined to get the stringent new euro rulebook established first.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is to have a separate meeting ahead of the summit with the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the Italian prime minister, Mario Monti.
The new Italian leader has quickly emerged as the most formidable challenger to Merkel’s hard line in the eurozone. He will argue that a bigger bailout fund is needed to bring down the cost of Italian borrowing, which would help to shore up the euro.
Although Greece is not formally slated for discussion, EU policymakers are increasingly pessimistic that Athens can do enough to retrieve a situation permanently teetering on the brink of national insolvency.
While Greece and its private creditors appear to be close to clinching a debt-swap deal that would shave €100bn off the national debt and leave the banks nursing 60% losses on their loans, the troika of officials from the European commission, European Central Bank and IMF have told eurozone governments that Greece is not doing enough to qualify for the second €130bn bailout agreed last October.
The troika report delivered last week demanded a further €2bn in budget reductions, 150,000 public sector job cuts by 2015 and major reforms of the civil service, judiciary, military, health and education systems.
No final decisions on Greece are expected.
Instead, the summit is likely to conclude with ringing calls for “smart growth” policies and jobs creation in an attempt to placate the markets, public opinion and Belgian trade unions, without pledging any of the means to do so.
The Museum of Biblical History in Collierville is organizing an educational tour May 15-28 through Turkey and Greece filled with sights from the Bible.
Participants will have an opportunity to savor the land and its history with visits to Istanbul, Troy, Alexandria, Troas, Assos, Pergamum, Ephesus, Isle of Patmos, Rhodes, Crete and Santorini before touring the ancient cities of Athens and Corinth in Greece.
Don Bassett, chairman of the museum, said the “study tour” is not only pleasurable, but educational.
He first traveled to Bible lands in 1971 as a graduate student in archaeology.
“My first trip was three long weeks, and I took as many pictures as possible and wrote as many notes as I could carry,” he said. “Return trips have shown me there is always more to learn. Each one is exciting. Even with today’s videos and Internet there is no substitute for actually standing at the Bema in Corinth or in the great theater in Ephesus.
“Visitors are always amazed that they can visit the same sites where the Apostle Paul wrote to New Testament Christians.”
Jacob Shock, the museum’s executive director, will also be a tour host. He brings his knowledge of Egyptian archaeology and experience as an epigrapher in Luxor, Egypt.
Two scholarships have been awarded for the 2012 trip. For more information, visit biblical-museum.org.
Nancy Bassett is co-founder of the Museum of Biblical History and is married to Don Bassett.
ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece and its private creditors said on Saturday they were piecing together the final elements of a debt swap and expected to have a deal ready next week, essential for sealing a new bailout and avoiding an uncontrolled default.
After muddling through round after round of inconclusive talks, the negotiations are in their final phase – though it appeared unlikely that a preliminary deal would be secured in time for a European Union summit on Monday.
Greek bondholders said the two sides were finalising a deal along the lines of a proposal made by Jean-Claude Juncker, the chairman of euro zone finance ministers.
The bondholders’ comments suggested creditors had accepted Juncker’s demand for a coupon, or interest rate, of below 4 percent on new, longer-dated bonds that Athens will swap for existing debt.
The coupon had been the main stumbling block in the talks, with euro zone ministers rejecting private creditors’ demand for a coupon of at least 4 percent – above the 3.5 percent level Greece and its European partners had been holding out for.
“Next week we will be in a position to complete the debt swap,” Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said, citing significant progress at Saturday’s talks. “We are really one step away from the final deal.”
He confirmed that the two sides were working along the “exact framework” provided by euro zone finance ministers.
Charles Dallara, chief of the Institute of International Finance that negotiates on behalf of banks and insurers, is due to leave Athens on Sunday but will remain in contact with Greek authorities, the IIF said.
Still, for Athens, progress on the debt swap is at risk of being overshadowed by increasingly problematic talks with its foreign lenders, whose inspectors are in town demanding unpopular reforms that no politician wants to be linked to.
DENSE, DIFFICULT AND CRUCIAL
Crushed by 350 billion euros of debt and running out of cash quickly, Greece is scrambling to appease the “troika” of its official lenders – the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund – and stitch up a deal with private creditors simultaneously.
Unimpressed with Athens dragging its feet on reforms, the troika has said they could hold up aid if more is not done to make the Greek economy more efficient.
“It’s all very dense, difficult and crucial,” a Greek finance ministry official said.
European paymaster Germany is pushing for Athens to relinquish control over its budget policy to European institutions as part of discussions over a second rescue package, a European source told Reuters.
With many Greeks blaming Germans for the austerity medicine their country has been forced to swallow, officials in Athens dismissed the idea as out of the question. “The government stresses that this responsibility belongs exclusively to the Greek government,” said government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis.
“The government has made a series of steps to improve the effectiveness of the public administration and a closer monitoring of the efforts to achieve fiscal targets..”
The European Commission, the executive arm of the 27-country bloc, said it wanted the Greek government to maintain autonomy.
“The Commission is committed to further reinforcing its monitoring capacity and is currently developing its capacity on the ground,” a spokesman said. “But executive tasks must remain the full responsibility of the Greek Government, which is accountable before its citizens and its institutions. That responsibility lies on their shoulders and it must remain so.”
A government source in Berlin said Germany’s proposal was aimed not just at Greece but also at other struggling euro zone members which receive aid and are unable to make good on their obligations. “All options can obviously be introduced only with the agreement of, for example, the Greeks themselves,” he added.
NEW BONDS FOR OLD
The debt swap, in which private creditors take a 50 percent cut in the nominal value of their Greek holdings in exchange for cash and new bonds, is also a prerequisite for the country to secure a 130-billion-euro rescue plan drawn up last year.
The two sides have broadly agreed that new bonds under the swap would have a 30-year maturity, but the talks ran into trouble over the coupon and whether the ECB and other public creditors must take losses on their holdings.
A deal, aimed at chopping 100 billion euros off Greece’s debt load, must be sealed in about three weeks at the latest as Greece has to repay 14.5 billion euros of debt on March 20.
Otherwise Greece could sink into an uncontrolled default that might spread turmoil across the euro zone and tip the global economy back into recession.
IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on Saturday that euro zone members were making progress to overcome their crisis but must do more to strengthen their financial firewall to stop the crisis spreading, adding the IMF was ready to help.
“There is progress as we see it,” Lagarde told a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
“But it is critical that the euro zone members actually develop a clear, simple, firewall that can operate both to limit the contagion and to provide this sort of act of trust in the euro zone so that the financing needs of that zone can actually be met.”
Concern has also grown in recent days that the debt swap may not do enough to get the country’s debt reduction plan back on track, and that Greece’s European partners will be forced to stump up funds to cover the shortfall.
The German news magazine Der Spiegel reported on Saturday that Greece’s international lenders thought Athens would need 145 billion euros of public money from the euro zone for its second bailout, rather than the planned 130 billion euros.
The magazine said the extra money was needed because of the deteriorating economic situation in Greece, echoing a Reuters report on Thursday.
Greece is in its fifth year of recession, and hopes of an end to the crisis in the near term have virtually gone, because of the combination of squabbling politicians, rising social anger and its inability to push through badly needed reforms.
The Nuremberg-based consumer market research organisation has now integrated booking figures from 30 major online portals representing about 60% of online tour operator sales into its ‘tourism panel’. This panel, so far covering about 1,200 travel agencies, is the basis for its monthly representative survey of German tourism market trends. By adding online sales data, GfK is now able to give a comprehensive overview of ‘offline’ and ‘online’ booking trends.
In December, travel agents increased sales more strongly than online portals, GfK said. For the current winter season, agents have increased bookings by 12% compared to 7% growth for online portals. For the forthcoming summer season, agencies are showing a 16% increase in revenues while the online portals have 14% growth.
This trend is explained by the different ‘core businesses’ of travel agencies and online portals, GfK explained. Agencies have much higher bookings of cruise holidays, for example, and also of long-haul holidays while online portals focus more on ‘simple’ products such as flights and accommodation-only bookings.
However, bookings for major destinations such as Spain and Turkey are growing faster online than offline, GfK noted. Egypt even has a slight rise in online bookings while travel agency bookings for the destination are 27% down on last year.
Online portals have a clear focus on mainstream destinations, with Spain, Turkey and Greece accounting for 62% of their summer 2012 revenues by destination. The three countries’ share of travel agency bookings, in contrast, is significantly lower at 50%. There is a similar trend for winter bookings, with the top three destinations, the Canary Islands, Egypt and Turkey, accounting for 54% of online sales by destination but only 34% of travel agency bookings.
These figures appear to indicate German consumers are starting to book more mass-market destinations online than in the past. In contrast, long-haul destinations account for 36% of agency sales but only 24% of online sales. GfK said it planned to expand its coverage of online bookings in future by adding online sales of travel agents and tour operators.
Source: ©The Moodie Report
By Melody Ng, Asia Bureau Chief
The House of Metaxa and Rémy Cointreau Global Travel Retail have joined forces with Hellenic Duty Free Shops (HDFS) to introduce Metaxa 12 Stars in Greece travel retail.
The launch features Metaxa 12 Stars in-store installations at the travel retailer’s flagship outlets at Athens Eleftherios Venizelos Airport and Thessaloniki’s Makedonia Airport. The product is set to roll out in other airports in the HDFS network in coming months, as the tourist season gets underway.
Striking Metaxa 12 Stars announcements have also been running since December 2011 on the HDFS web homepage as well as in its catalogues.
Created by Metaxa Master Constantinos Raptis, Metaxa 12 Stars is described as ‘the pinnacle of the Stars range of the House’. It is a blend of fine wine distillates and Muscat wines, the latter from grapes grown and harvested by hand on the slopes of the Aegean island of Samos.
Raptis commented: “Metaxa 12 Stars has been 12 years in the making. It has taken years of work in the island vineyard of Samos, patient ageing at the cellars of the House of Metaxa and an obsessive attention to detail for this creation to come to life. I enjoy Metaxa 12 Stars neat or, occasionally, on a single rock.”
The release of Metaxa 12 Stars follows the launch of the Metaxa Rising Sun exclusive with HDFS last summer, which starred a special sleeve edition of the Metaxa 5 Stars one-litre bottle.
HDFS Deputy Marketing Director Sarantis Voritsis added: “It is an honour for Hellenic Duty Free Shops to prelaunch exclusively in Greece the Metaxa 12 Stars, one of the most innovative products offered worldwide. Metaxa always presents unusual products, admired by everyone, all over the world. The Hellenic Duty Free Shops’ team supports this fruitful cooperation and applauds such inspirational creations as the new Metaxa 12 Stars.”
Metaxa 12 Stars 70cl (40%abv) is available at HDFS shops in a gift box featuring the work of the Metaxa Master (duty free: €39.45; duty paid: €42.05).
ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece expects to conclude difficult debt talks with private creditors within days and negotiations with the EU and the IMF on a new bailout deal by the middle of next week, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos told Reuters on Friday.
Speaking at his neo-classical office shortly before resuming talks with bankers on a bond swap deal that is key to saving the euro zone member from bankruptcy, Papademos said: “Greece will not default.”
“We made significant progress over the last few weeks and in the last few days in particular. We are trying to conclude the discussions as quickly as possible. I am quite optimistic an agreement will be reached in the coming days,” Papademos said.
The prime minister, who leads an emergency coalition government tasked with steering Greece out of its worst economic crisis in decades, spoke to Reuters minutes before bankers’ chief negotiator Charles Dallara swept up to his mansion in his limousine for a new round of talks.
Papademos was also upbeat about parallel negotiations with the so-called troika of the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank, saying agreement was expected soon on the reforms they are demanding in exchange for a new 130-billion euro aid package Greece needs to stay afloat.
“The aim is to complete the discussion with the troika by the middle of next week at the latest. I hope sooner rather than later,” he said.
The former central banker said Greece had made progress on both fiscal and structural reforms with results already emerging.
“Much more has been achieved than sometimes appears in public. There are some slippages in the implementation of the fiscal adjustment program and the reforms. But internal devaluation is already taking place. We expect some modest growth to appear during 2013.”
Papademos said the budget deficit would be about 9.5 percent of GDP in 2011, from 10.6 percent in 2010. A worse than expected recession has made it hard for Greece to meet targets agreed with lenders, despite harsh salary cuts and tax hikes.
The troika has criticized the slow pace of Greek reforms and privatizations. Lenders have warned the second bailout will hinge on Greece’s proven commitment to the program.
The soft-spoken economist, whose polite demeanor was a sharp contrast to the brash style of many Greek politicians, said he appreciated the sacrifices the population was making.
“We fully understand that the Greek people are not happy with current economic conditions and are concerned about the prospects for the economy,” he said.
“I believe the majority of the Greek people recognize the need for addressing our fiscal problems. I believe they realize that other adjustments are necessary in order to restore conditions for sustained growth.”
Scores of riot police cordoned off streets around his office during the interview, as hundreds of leftist protesters waved fists at parliament, chanting “IMF get out”.
The demonstration was smaller than previous, often violent, protests against the previous socialist government of George Papandreou, who was forced to step down in November.
Papademos’s coalition is supported by the three main parties in parliament, ranging from socialists to the far-right, who have agreed an uneasy truce for a few months to save Greece from default and exit from the euro zone.
Asked why he left a tranquil academic career for the Herculean task of leading Greece at such a difficult time, Papademos said: “I had to contribute to the country’s efforts to overcome the crisis.”
Did he have any regrets? “Once you make the decision, you don’t look back,” he replied with a wry smile.