from Global Investing:

Can Eastern Europe “sweat” it?

Interesting to see that Poland wants to squeeze out more income from its state-owned enterprise (SOE) sector in the face of slowing economic growth and financing pressures.

Warsaw wants to double next year's dividends from stakes in firms ranging from copper mines to utility providers to banks.

Fellow euro zone aspirant Lithuania has also embarked on reforms aimed at increasing dividends sixfold from what UBS has dubbed "the forgotten side of the government balance sheet". It wants to emulate countries such as Sweden and Singapore where such companies are managed at arm's length from the state and run along strict corporate standards to consistently grow profits.

The impetus isn't entirely ideological. Poland and Lithuania are desperately trying to balance their books and under European Commission rules, privatisation proceeds cannot be taken into account when calculating the budget deficit but SOE dividends can.

But "sweating" government assets to yield higher profits doesn't always come easy for central and eastern Europe. After all, this is a region where state ownership has been synonymous with inefficiency and stagnation.

East Europe’s pension grabs give pause to reformers

The pension grabs by austerity-averse governments in Poland and Hungary could impact this year’s planned reforms in the Czech Republic, causing another emerging European Union member to soften its approach to a looming debt threat tied to an aging population.

Budapest has already drawn criticism for right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s plan to seize $14 billion of assets in privately held pension accounts to plug a budget hole without having to cut state spending. Poland’s plans, while not as extreme, have also raised eyebrows. Poles now pay about 7 percent of their paychecks into private accounts, but Prime Minister Tusk is planning to cut that to about 2 percent, taking the extra cash to reduce debt and replacing those funds with future state obligations.

To their credit, all three countries are among a group of nine who have lobbied Brussels, without much effect, for big exemptions to their pension reform costs. But while using funds designated for private pension accounts will cut the budget deficit in the short term, economists say it is only a trade-off between replacing short-term deficits with future pension costs, a good way for governments to stay popular but bad for long-term financial health.

Emerging Europe property revival

People packing their bags and flying out to St Petersburg, Warsaw, and Prague this summer may not just be seeking an exotic vacation spot.

International property investors are inching back to emerging Europe, lured by prospects of higher returns in markets such as Poland, whose economy has held up relatively well in a global downturn, and Russia, which is bolstered by rising crude oil prices.

After posting strong growth for over 5 years, commercial real estate investments in emerging Europe had been a washout after Lehman Brothers’ collapse in Sept ‘08, with first quarter sales hitting a record low.

North Korea: New Europe?

Finance ministers and other executives busy discussing the future of Eastern European transition economies at a European Bank for Reconstruction and Development meeting were reminded of a country far from Europe which needs aid to transform its economy.

South Korea thinks its Stalinist neighbour should receive aid from the London-based lender, set up in 1991 to help former communist countries make the transition to market economies.

“I strongly recommend North Korea as a next candidate to become a recipient country, once it decides to transform itself into a market economy,” Young Geol Lee, vice minister of strategy and finance, said in a speech. “Please bear in mind that North Korea has great potentials as a future client of the EBRD.”

from Global Investing:

EBRD to puzzle over E.Europe crisis

Ministers and bankers meeting at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's annual gathering in London tomorrow and Saturday have a sorry mess to scrutinise.

By the bank's own (revised) forecasts, its region of central and eastern Europe will contract by over 5 percent this year. Many countries in eastern Europe took too much advantage of western banks' lending spree, and businesses and households are struggling to pay back foreign currency loans.

Falling commodity prices have hit countries like Russia and Kazakhstan, and a burst consumer credit bubble is risking double-digit contraction in the Baltic states and Ukraine.