Czechs are fiercely proud of their beer, and especially of the fast-growing range of varieties available from the explosion of independent craft and micro-breweries established in recent years in both Prague and the country’s many spa and historic towns, as an FT special report shows.
Indeed, the boom in innovative, independent brewing is being felt well outside the tourist-packed streets of old town Prague and Cesky Krumlov.
Sixty miles to the south-east of the Czech capital is Pacov, a small town in rolling hills that fails to make the tourist radar screen. But a factory on its southern fringes knows all about the current rage among restaurateurs for making hoppy Czech ales on site.
Airline passengers to Hungary, be warned: Budapest’s Liszt Ferenc International airport is having its Woodstock Week, with anything from 200 to 250 youths – with associated rucksacks, tents, sleeping bags and tin pots – camping out in the terminal every night since Sunday awaiting flights.
“We expect them to be here for three to four days. They’ll be gone by the end of the week,”” Mihaly Hardy, airport spokesman, told beyondbrics.
Hungary’s economy expanded by 3.9 per cent in the second quarter of 2014 compared with the same quarter last year, helped by strong performances in the manufacturing and construction sectors, according to preliminary data from the statistical office released on Thursday.
Coming on top of growth of 3.5 per cent in the first quarter, the latest data indicate first half growth of 3.7 per cent, although this could be adjusted once the detailed data are available in early September.
Under communism, it was the norm for state companies and institutions in central Europe to own holiday homes: come summer, reluctant and poorly paid comrade workers could enjoy the proletarian splash with one another from the Baltics to Burgas.
But after 1990, as managers sought to focus on core activities in the drive to a market economy, such real estate was mostly divested – often at attractive prices to those in the know.
Now, guess what? The company resort is making a comeback – at least in Hungary, where local weekly hvg has unearthed a story that the central bank (MNB) is buying up property for the good of its very own staff.
A long-running dispute between Croatia and Mol, the Hungarian oil and gas company, over control of Ina, Mol’s Croatian counterpart, has flared up again.
Zagreb is seething over a statement issued by Mol after talks on Friday which said the latest round of negotiations had achieved precisely nothing. The ministry told beyondbrics the Mol statement was “a lie” and threatened to publish a recording of the negotiations unless Mol withdraws it.
Hungary’s government said on Thursday it had agreed a deal to buy MKB, one of the country’s largest commercial banks with more than 80 branches, from BayernLB, its German owner. The state will pay €55m for MKB and BayernLB will waive claims of €270m in receivables.
The deal marks what Mihaly Varga, Hungary’s economy minister, said was “the first step” in increasing Hungarian ownership of the country’s commercial banks. Viktor Orban, prime minister, has long insisted that he wants to see “at least” 50 per cent of the Hungarian banking system in domestic hands.
The National Bank of Hungary (MNB) surprised the markets on Tuesday by lopping 20 basis points off its policy interest rate to leave it at 2.1 per cent a year, a new record low.
But Gyorgy Matolcsy, central bank governor, said Tuesday’s cut marked the end of the bank’s two-year cutting cycle.
Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister now beginning his second successive term in office, named his cabinet on Thursday with seven out of 10 ministers maintained in a government that is expected to emphasise continuity.
“Out of the 10 ministers named today, seven are the same as in the (previous) Orbán government [so] the prime minister has kept his promise: the government will simply continue what they were before the elections,” Tamás Boros, director of Policy Solutions, a Budapest political think tank often critical of the government, told beyondbrics.
It goes on, and on… and on. Hungary’s central bank trimmed its base rate once again on Tuesday – this time by a third consecutive reduction of 10 basis points – to leave the key rate at 2.4 per cent.
The latest move, largely priced in by the markets, means the bank has cut the rate by 460 basis points since its cycle of easing began in August 2012.
Almost ten years to the day after its first flight, Wizz Air, a low-cost airline centered on central and eastern Europe (CEE), said on Thursday that it plans to raise €200m by listing on the London Stock Exchange in June to raise funds to expand its operations.
Jozsef Varadi, Wizz Air chief executive, speaking via video to a press conference in Budapest, said Wizz Air Holdings, the parent company based in the Channel Islands, would use the cash to strengthen its balance sheet and expand operations.
The airline sees considerable potential for further growth in its core CEE market, given that the ‘propensity for air travel’ in the region is currently just 0.36 seats per capita, compared to the western European averages of 1.58 seats per capita.
The Hungarian economic comeback really is underway – or so it would seem, given the release of first quarter preliminary figures from the statistical office, which put economic growth at 3.5 per cent, up from 2.7 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2013.
True, when adjusted for calendar and seasonal effects, the figure is a tad more muted, at 3.2 per cent, and the final figures could be reviewed when released next month. Regardless, the result is “extraordinary”, according to Gergely Gabler, senior analyst with Erste Bank in Budapest.
It’s been hovering at or near zero for a good six months but in the cold light of day it’s still a bit difficult to take it in. Inflation in Hungary – which for two decades after the collapse of communism was often one of the gloomiest economic indicators in the monthly roster – has moved into negative territory; in other words, deflation.
Will he, won’t he… get it?
That was the question on Magyar political analysts’ lips on Monday – he being Viktor Orban, Hungary’s go-go, rapid-fire prime minister, “it” being the two-thirds parliamentary vote he most definitely covets for a “super-majority” again during his second term in office.
He’s on the brink – it depends on a few thousand votes cast outside the country or in other districts. But regardless of this, the one time anti-communist student firebrand is sure to be at the helm in Budapest for four more years, and still with a commanding parliamentary majority.
Has the Great Magyar Rate-Cutting Cycle come to an end? To many, it looks that way, following the central bank’s decision on Tuesday to snip just 10 basis points off the base rate, to leave it at 2.6 per cent a year.
And even this trim, the smallest made so far in a 20 month long trimming spree, is possibly more symbolic, an effort to keep up the momentum in front of elections, scheduled on April 6, just 12 days hence.
Viktor Orban, Hungary’s populist prime minister, has promised a continuation of the policies enacted in the past four years if his Fidesz party wins the country’s general elections, set for April 6.
Orban – who is well ahead in opinion polls against a left-liberal coalition cobbled together at the eleventh hour – told the Hungarian chamber of commerce on Wednesday “we’ll [just] continue,” before spelling out a 10 point economic programme that includes pledges to increase the proportion of domestically held government debt, accelerate industrialisation, boost Hungarian ownership in the banking and agricultural sectors and further decrease energy costs to support Hungarian competitiveness.