ATHENS- Recession in the Greek economy eased in the second quarter, official data showed on Monday but some circles are sceptical that the country can climb out of crisis without new help.
The economy shrank by 4.6 percent compared with contraction of 5.6 percent in the first quarter, a first official estimate showed. The latest figure shows that the recession in Greece drags on but that it is less severe on a 12-month comparison, and the government said it was moving into surplus on part of its budget.
This first estimate from the statistics authority comes in the sixth year of recession since the country was overwhelmed by a debt crisis. The authorities also announced a privatisation deal under a much delayed and scaled-back privatisation programme imposed by creditors. "According to available data, gross domestic product shrank by 4.6 percent in the second quarter of 2013 compared with the second quarter of 2012," the authority said. Last year the economy shrank by 6.4 percent from output in 2011. The government has estimated that the economy will contract by 4.3 percent this year, but that at the end of 2014 it will show growth of 0.2 percent.
On Sunday the German weekly publication Der Spiegel, citing an internal document from the German central Bundesbank, reported that Greece might need another rescue programme because it was unable to get on top of the crisis, despite bailout funding from the IMF and EU.
And in a commentary from Capital Economics, economist Ben May said that "the improvement in the economic situation has been much less pronounced than the business surveys had suggested."  He added that "we are still sceptical that the economy will experience a full-blown economic recovery next year, as assumed in the forecasts which underpin the Greek adjustment programme". May said that Capital Economics still believed the Greek economy would shrink by 2.0 percent in 2014, "implying that Greece will need further loans to fully cover its financing needs". The country has been bailed out by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union in return for deep structural reforms to its economy, and its banking system is being underpinned by refinancing from the European Central Bank.
The reforms cover tax increases, spending cuts, the removal of restrictive practices, and privatisations.
The budget of the central government, which does not include the cost of interest on the debt, local authority spending and pension budgets, showed a surplus of 2.6 billion euros ($3.45 billion) in the seven months from January to July, Deputy Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said on Monday.
He said: "This performance proves that the target of achieving a primary surplus on the general government budget by the end of the year is achievable." A primary surplus is a surplus excluding the cost of interest on the debt.
Meanwhile, Greece's state privatisation agency (HRADF) announced that it signed the papers to sell a 33-percent stake in the country's gaming monopoly OPAP to Greco-Czech consortium Emma Delta for 652 million euros ($870 million).
In return for the two EU-IMF bailouts, Greece has pledged to raise 9.5 billion euros in asset sales by 2016, a target that was originally 50 billion euros.
But the privatisation drive is far behind schedule and targets for have been repeatedly scaled back.
After Russia's Gazprom in June surprisingly withdrew plans to buy Greece's state gas operator DEPA, Athens had to revise down its estimated asset sales for this year, now expecting to raise 1.6 billion euros instead of 2.6 billion euros.
Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras was quoted by private broadcaster Mega as saying that the OPAP deal was "a strong message" to the markets.