Press review (Jan 16)

The Romanian dailies on Friday carry reports on a central bank decision to ease mortgage lending, a Constitutional Court ruling rejecting a Government's ordinance banning the public sector staff from earning both a salary and a pension, and a first reading of the state budget at the Government's meeting on Friday.
The National Bank of Romania's (BNR) Administration Board decided on Thursday to amend Regulation no. 11 on limiting the lending risk associated with the loans to individuals, barely three months after the regulation took force, report the Ziarul financiar in an item headlined "Relaxed lending only for ‘good-quality mortgages'" and the Business Standard in an article entitled "(BNR governor Mugur) Isarescu puts loan relaxation on the banks' shoulders".
"Starting in January, Romanians can take mortgage-guaranteed loans, namely house mortgage or city land, at no more than 60-65% indebtedness, once the stress test is abandoned; however, they have to pay at least 10% of the credit in advance. This is the first move made by the National Bank to ease lending in 2009, as insistently demanded by the bankers and the market.
Nevertheless, just a quarter of the 42 banks operating in the Romanian market will give relaxed loans, according to director of the BNR Surveillance Directorate, Nicolae Cinteza", the Business Standard reports. It adds that although the central bank governor made the first move and gave the green light to crediting guaranteed by mortgages, the bankers are still sceptical and are not considering relaxed financing.
The Romanian Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday that the Government's emergency ordinance no. 230 of 2008 banning the public sector staff from earning both a salary and a pension is unconstitutional, the Cotidianul and Romania libera announce.
The Court judges, however, rejected the act per se, meaning that the Government cannot regulate issues related to fundamental human rights stipulated by the constitution by emergency ordinance, since such power rests with Parliament alone.
Prime Minister Emil Boc replied by announcing he will not abandon the plans to ban people from adding their pension to a state sector salary and he will follow the parliamentary procedure called for by the constitution. The Executive will draft a bill that it will put forward to Parliament for urgent debate, Boc announced. He cited the high pensions at the Civil Aeronautical Authority and in the judicial system, stressing there are 2,963 pensioners in the judiciary, of whom 304 also earn a salary.

The Romanian Government, at its meeting on Friday, will unveil the state budget in a first reading; the state budget was drafted by Finance Minister Gheorghe Pogea after recent consultations with the social partners, the Bucharest-based papers report.
According to analyses made by the Finance Ministry, the budget might be structured on the basis of revenues put at 31% of gross domestic product (GDP) and expenditure at 33.5% of GDP; the budget deficit might stand at 2.5% of GDP.
"The difficult economic circumstances will force many enterprises into bankruptcy this year", the Ziua says in an item headlined "The year of the bankruptcies" in which it echoes remarks made by Minister for the SMEs, Trade and Business Climate, Constantin Nita. The minister anticipated there will be thousands of firms to go bankrupt, mostly small ones, with five or six employees and also some of the exporters.
Some of the moves planned by Minister Nita to back the small and medium-sized firms and to counter the effects of the financial crisis target subsidising the interest to the loans taken by the SMEs for the projects conducted on European funds, not taxing the profit re-invested in upgrading and shortening the time required to access the European funds. The finance minister seeks to get some 0.4 – 0.5% of this year's GDP to back the SMEs, up from 0.018% that was allotted in 2008, the Ziua reports.
The tripled auto tax might be suspended, the Financiarul quotes Environment Minister Nicolae Nemirschi as announcing. The minister will propose the Executive to suspend the enforcement of an emergency ordinance by which the tax on used cars was increased threefold; the minister will also begin moves to draft a law to regulate such taxation, with the vehicles to be taxed at the values applicable before the threefold rise until such draft law is completed.
Nemirschi explained the future law will "take into account the European taxation norms and will observe the European principle saying the ‘the polluter pays"."He said he will present at the Government's meeting on Friday a memorandum including the possible auto tax regulation alternatives, such as a cut in the tax value upon the vehicle registration and its subsequent inclusion in the annual tax paid by the owner, with the tax amount to be calculated depending on the pollution rate of the vehicle.
"Sales of luxury automobiles go untouched by the auto crisis", headlines the Business Standard; it reports that the demand of exclusive cars was not affected in 2008 by the overall market shrinkage, with most of the car makes reporting significant rises, despite the problems faced by big automobiles resulting from the global financial crisis and the changed auto tax, show figures released by the Romanian Association of Automobile Producers and Importers.
Most luxury vehicle makes saw their sales rise in 2008, such as Maserati, which reported doubled sales, while other brands were faced with dwindled demand. Mercedes reported 21% rise, the daily writes.
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