Bridgestone Ranked as Top Foreign Investor in Poland

(Staffordshire, U.K./Tyres & Accessories) Poland’s leading monthly business magazine, Forbes Poland, has named Bridgestone as the top foreign investor in Poland for 2006.

This distinction is based upon data supplied by Poland’s Ministry of Economy, which reveals that the total value of Bridgestone’s investment in Poland during the year exceeded that of all other overseas companies, including leading investors such as Dell, Sharp and Toyota.

Following a recent award as “Best investor in Poland’ from the Rzeczpospolita newspaper, Forbes Poland, the country’s leading monthly business magazine, has also ranked Bridgestone top investor for 2006.

These findings were officially announced at the Forbes Executive Forum held at Warsaw’s Olympic Centre on Feb. 14. Hiroyoshi Takigawa, managing director at Bridgestone Poznan, accepted the Forbes Poland “Biggest Foreign Investor 2006” award on behalf of the tyremaker.

Last year, Bridgestone commenced construction work on a new €200-million radial truck & bus tyre plant at Stargard Szczecinski, in north-west Poland, scheduled for completion in 2009. The 100-hectare site will employ 750 and have a daily capacity of 5000 tyres by 2011. Production at this new facility will supplement output from Bridgestone’s existing Spanish truck and bus tyre plant and help meet growing European demand for Bridgestone commercial vehicle tyres. It will also enhance the company’s degree of self-sufficiency in the region and contribute to the creation of a strategic product supply system.

Bridgestone employs a total of 1,600 people in Poland. The company’s facilities include a high-tech plant at Poznan manufacturing up to 20,000 high-performance passenger car tyres daily; a rubber tracks plant opened in ZarÓw in 2006, producing 26,000 tracks a year for the European construction industry; a Firestone industrial products plant at Wolsztyn supplying commercial vehicle manufacturers with advanced air springs; and a national sales and distribution company in Warsaw.

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Poland Digs In Over Meat

Poland vowed Thursday to block talks on a new EU-Russian strategic partnership until Russia lifts its ban on imports of Polish meat and other agricultural products.

On Wednesday, the European Commission suggested Poland might be ready to end the five-month veto before a planned EU-Russian summit on May 18, even if the Russian embargo remained in place.

But President Lech Kaczynski told a news conference that Poland's position was unchanged. "The next move belongs to Russia," he said. "Poland has not backed down. It's not possible to have an embargo and withdraw the veto."

The Kremlin's top adviser on relations with the European Union rejected Kaczynski's call for action from Moscow. He was quoted by Interfax as saying the EU -- not Russia -- must resolve the stalemate over the ban and veto.

"Warsaw's position, in essence, throws down a challenge to the policies and interests of the EU and consequently, as we have already said, the answer to the problem should be found within the EU itself," Sergei Yastrzhembsky said.

Russia banned Polish meat products 16 months ago, saying it had discovered fraudulent inspection certificates. Warsaw insists its foods are safe and that the ban is politically motivated.

Polish Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga said Thursday that the ban was affecting relations between Poland and Russia at every level. "These bans have been imposed for political reasons rather than technical ones," she said. She said a summit between Polish President Lech Kaczynski and President Vladimir Putin could not take place until the ban was lifted.

"It is obvious that these kind of steps deteriorate relations, but we look forward to a considerable improvement after these matters -- both the Russian ban and the Polish veto -- are resolved," she said.

EU president Germany is making strenuous diplomatic efforts to break the deadlock and EU foreign ministers are set to discuss the issue at a meeting in Luxembourg on April 23.

Source: themoscowtimes.com

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Polish Government Financial Reform Or Spring Cleaning In Poland

Warsaw, Poland 5 April, 2007 Poland's government announced its long-awaited plan for financial reform that has been greeted by the opposition as nothing more than Polish string cleaning.

Poland's Minister of Finance Zyta Gilowska announced at a press conference, attended by Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a plan for reform of the public finances. That reform entails the closing of three government administrative agencies and putting about 100,000 people out of work. The reform is expected, according to the Minister of Finance, save about 10 billion Zloty over the next two years after the agencies are closed. The reform is expected, or hoped, to go in place within here a year. Opposition party leader Donald Tusk said that this is the 13th press conference held by the Polish Government concerning financial reform and nothing has happened yet. He and other opposition politicians described the reform package in words that range from as nothing more than Poland Spring cleaning to insignificant changes. Neither the Prime Minister nor Financial Minister made any comments about what would happen to the 100,000 workers to be laid off. And they made no comments as to what would happen to the work that these people have been doing.

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Apple prices decline in Poland

Polish trade sources inform ""Agrooglyad: Vegetables and Fruits" journal" that the trend of the wholesale prices for apple to decrease has been observed in Poland since the beginning of April. To the opinion of Polish experts, this trend can be connected to the fact that the decreased (5%) seasonal import tariff rate has been out of effect since March 31st 2007. The same fact blocked the apple supply channel to Russia (where the import of fresh produce from Poland has been banned for a year and a half already) through Ukraine.

So, the demand for apples has dramatically dropped since the first of April in Poland along with the prices for this product. Immediately Ukrainian companies - owners of high quality apple storages started to sell their products in order to fill the formed niche on market. At the same time the wholesalers accumulated certain volumes of Polish apples to sell them for another 1-2 weeks. So, we can expect the large shipments of Polish apples of decreased quality to enter Ukrainian market in a couple of days.

According to the forecast of the analysts of "Agrooglyad: Vegetables and Fruits" journal, the prices for apples will start growing in Ukraine mid April. But, the apples of the future harvest can be significantly cheaper than the apples produced in 2006. The subscribers of "Agrooglyad: Vegetables and Fruits" weekly journal will have the opportunity to read the extracts of "The production and price forecast for fruits and vegetables 2007" where, in particular, the price forecast for dessert and commercial apples will be released.

The full version of the forecast, specified for each region, will be available for everybody concerned for the price of 2,200 UAH ($440). The subscribers of "Agrooglyad: Vegetables and Fruits" journal can purchase the full version of this survey for the discount price of 2,000 UAH ($400).

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Poland: growing demand for fresh produce before Easter

A few days before Easter (the second major holiday in Poland after Christmas) the demand for fresh fruit and vegetables in Poland is growing. Some products – like onion, carrot, root parsley (some processing plants started to buy parsnip which is similar but much cheaper and can also be used for freezing or drying) or potatoes were already very expensive for some time. But the forecasted revival in trade causes that other vegetables prices also started to rise.

Chinese cabbage for example is already offered for twice the price from the last season. Tomatoes prices remain high because the domestic supply is still low and the quality of tomatoes imported from Spain, Morocco and Turkey is rather low. As the season of sweet peppers from Almeria already ended, importers started to offer sweet pepper from the Netherlands. The quality is much better, but the prices – 3,5 €/kg in wholesale - are very high. On the other side, Polish apples are getting cheaper. Though interest from the potential importers of apples (mainly from Russia) remains high, the supply is also quite large.


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LG.Philips ramps up LCD panel factory in Poland

LG.Philips LCD, the world's No.2 maker of large-size LCD panels, said on Sunday that its flat-screen assembly plant in Poland had started mass production and was planning to produce 11 million modules annually by 2011 to meet booming demand for flat TVs in Europe.

LG.Philips, a joint venture between LG Electronics and Philips NV, plans to expand the annual production capacity of the plant from an initial 3 million units to 11 million units by 2011.

The plant, located in Kobierzyce, near Wroclaw in southwestern Poland, will mainly assemble liquid crystal display (LCD) panels over 32 inches in order to supply makers of flat-screen TVs.

The total investment for the plant is estimated at $572.9 million through the year 2011.

Japan's Toshiba took a 19.9 percent stake in the LG.Philips plant in order to ensure a stable supply of panels for its TV sets.

With global demand for LCD panels skyrocketing, especially in Europe, central and eastern European countries have become locations of choice for flat screen makers thanks to their cheap and well-educated work force and convenient location.

LG.Philips said many of its LCD customers and partner firms had already built or are building facilities in the region. LG Electronics currently operates an LCD TV plant nearby and Toshiba is building an LCD TV plant nearby, with production scheduled to start in August 2007.

Meanwhile, Philips and Japan's Matsushita Electric Industrial have TV plants in Hungary and the Czech Republic while Japan's Sharp is currently building an LCD TV plant to complement its LCD module assembly plant near Torun in northeastern Poland.

South Korea's Samsung Electronics, the world's biggest maker of large-size LCD panels said in March it had picked Slovakia as the site of its new 320 million euro LCD assembly plant.

On Friday, shares in LG.Philips ended up 0.92 percent at 32,900 won on Seoul's main stock market, with the wider market up 0.11 percent.

Source: news.zdnet.com

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Poland's Polkomtel Ebitda, Net Profit To Rise In 2007

Poland's mobile operator Polkomtel expects its net profit to rise in 2007 from 2006, the company's Chief Executive Jaroslaw Bauc said Monday.

Bauc also added that the operator's earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or EBITDA, will also rise in 2007, while revenue likely won't diverge from 2006.

Polkomtel's 2006 net profit was 1.12 billion zlotys ($387.5 million), while its Ebitda was PLN2.48 billion and its revenue was PLN7.36 billion.

Speaking at a news briefing to announce the company's 2006 results, Bauc said that "Polkomtel's net profit growth in 2007 should be similar or slightly higher than last year."

Polkomtel's 2006 net profit rose by 5% compared with its 2005 net profit.

Bauc added the company's rise in Ebitda in 2007 should outpace the net profit growth, mainly due to higher amortization.

He said Polkomtel's revenue in 2007 "should not fundamentally diverge from 2006" and listed the market regulator's decision on interconnect fees between operators as the big element of uncertainty.

Bauc said he expects Polkomtel's investment in the network to reach an all-time high in 2007, and "certainly not less than 2006's PLN1.21 billion."

The chief executive didn't reveal what the company's management will propose for its 2007 dividend but said it won't be less than 50% of net profit. Polkomtel's 2006 dividend represented 92% of the company's net profit in the year.

Polkomtel expects to have 14 million subscribers at the end of 2007, up from 12 million at the end of 2006 and 12.7 million at the end of the first quarter of 2007.

However, Bauc said many of these are multiple subscribers, using services from different operators. Bauc added that the crucial element is customer loyalty, with the key indicator being how well the company retains customers.

The chief executive said 2007 is likely to be a significant year for the telecom sector in Poland for several reasons. Market penetration will exceed 100% in Poland by the end of the year, Bauc said, and he also highlighted falling fees and changes to allow customers to migrate from one operator to another while retaining the same telephone number.

Bauc said that in some Western countries more than 50% of mobile customers changed their operator after gaining the right to do so and retain the same number. "If this awaits us in Poland, we will have a real revolution," he said.

Another recent market change is the launch on March 16 of Poland's fourth mobile operator P4 under the Play brand name, offering third-generation services using the universal mobile telecommunication system, or UMTS.

"Play's offer is quite different from Polkomtel's, but it is a complimentary one," said Bauc. "As a bonus, it is being offered on our network," he added.

Polkomtel, Poland's number-two mobile operator by sales last year, is controlled by four state-dominated companies. Oil refiner PKN Orlen, copper producer KGHM Polska Miedz, power grid operator Polskie Sieci Elektroenergetyczne and coal trader Weglokoks together hold almost 61% of the telecom company.

The remaining 39% is split evenly between Vodafone Group and Denmark's TDC, which is negotiating to sell its Polkomtel stake to the other shareholders.

Source: By David McQuaid and Malgorzata Halaba,

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Real estate investors from Poland move to Bucharest

Real estate funds present in Poland are preparing to enter the local market in search of higher yields, which in Romania are about 1.5% higher and are complemented by an unsaturated market. "Investment funds present in Poland for the last 5-7 years could give up the portfolios they hold there, considering among other things the yields that have fallen in the last few years. They could take their liquidities and move their operations eastwards - to countries like Romania, where the profitability of real estate investments is still high," believes Pavel Tonski, manager of the real estate consulting firm Accreo Taxand.
Among the Polish investors testing the local market are investment fund Heitman, controlled from Chicago, which manages assets worth over 15 billion dollars in the United States, Europe and Asia. Heitman is one of the leading investors in Poland. Yields have reached 5.5% for retail space in Warsaw and 5% for offices, according to information from the real estate consulting company Cushman & Wakefield. These values are close to those on Western markets, while in Romania they are around 1.5% higher, taking into consideration the latest transactions made.
Source: zf.ro

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Intra-Poland pipeline

OLPP, the government-controlled liquid-fuels logistics operator, is drawing up plans to build a 235-km, zł.350 million pipeline from the Baltic coast to Płock in order to address periodic diesel-oil shortages that have dogged Poland in recent years.

The project, the first such in Poland in more than a decade, is to start next year and become operational in 2011 at the earliest.


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Death sentence threatens Poland's Rospuda Valley

The Polish government has confirmed that it will permit a controversial section of the Via Baltica expressway � the Augustów Town bypass � to plough through the country�s treasured Rospuda Valley in north-east Poland, threatening an importsnt ecosystem and mammal migration area.

A proposed north-south expressway, planned to connect Helsinki with Warsaw is now pending.

Protests against the decision of the Minister of Environment, Mr Szyszko, have been organised throughout Poland. The Polish public has recently joined the campaign, with floods of emails from individuals to Poland�s Prime Minister expressing disagreement with the planned Rospuda Valley route. Thousands of people have started wearing green ribbons in solidarity with the campaign. Activists from Greenpeace have settled a camp at the site, they are ready to defend the precious area.

Some European Union countries want to route the highway through Poland; offering to finance its construction in exchangefor a go-ahead. But the European Commission has sent two letters to the Polish government opposing the proposed route of the Via Baltica on the grounds that it would severely damage important, and protected, natural sites.

The second warning letter - a so-called �Reasoned Opinion� - is the last chance Poland has to stop works on then controversial Augustow Bypass through the pristine Rospuda wetlands before the European Commission takes Poland to the European Court of Justice, which could see the Court insist that they stop construction and ultimately impose a severe fine.

Due to the current state of urgency � contractors are already on the site of the proposed Augustow Bypass � the European Commission has taken the unusual step of giving Poland just seven days to respond.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "I urge the Polish Government to once more consider ways of building these bypasses without causing such serious environmental damage. I believe that Poland has everything to gain by building new infrastructure without sacrificing its most precious natural heritage."

Two options

This move has been welcomed by environmental NGOs BirdLife International, CEE Bankwatch Network, and the Polish organisations OTOP (the Polish Society for the Protection of Birds), WWF Poland and Polish Green Network � all of whom have vigorously challenged the large-scale development and stressed the existence of alternatives.

Two options for its course have been purt forward. The Białystok option is being promoted by the local authorities. The expressway would cross the Augustów Forest, the Rospuda River Valley, the Biebrza National Park and probably the Knyszyn Forest Landscape Park. It would also run through the Biała Forest (the Bug River Valley Landscape Park), along the edge of the Wigry National Park and the Narew National Park, and would cross migration routes of large mammals.

These areas have been proposed for inclusion in the Natura 2000 European network of protected areas, the protection extending beyond the boundaries of the current National Parks and Landscape Parks. The sites are also recognized by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Areas. Moreover, the Valley of Biebrza River is included in the list of wetlands of the Ramsar Convention.

Lynxes and wolves

The second Łomża option, which is endorsed by ecologists, would avoid most of the negative effects of the Białystok option. That option would make it possible to save Rospuda River Valley. Moreover, it is much shorter.

The scheme threatens many ecosystems that have to be described as almost pristine, especially when compared with those in Western Europe. Via Baltica (especially the course of it that is promoted by local authorities) will lead to fragmentation of habitats of large mammals, such as elk, lynxes or wolves. It will cross there migration routes, resulting in inbreeding and increased road mortality. (Wildlife road crossings are amost entirely neglected in Poland). The scheme will also change the hydrological balance of the area, renowned for its unique peat lands and another water-dependent ecosystems with specific fauna and flora, like rare orchids.

The problem is that local communities are manipulated as far as all new road investments in that area are concerned. They face very serious problems with ever-increasing transportation (especially big trucks) near they houses, and believe that the new roads will lessen the intensity of the transportation near their cities. What is more, they are told that such investments are inevitable for increasing people�s income and reduce unemployment rate, which severely affects that part of Poland.

In reality, the economic benefits for local communities connected with the whole road construction scheme in Northeast Poland are at best doubtful. Moreover, it will lessen the potential of that region, since this part of Poland has a unique possibility to base its development on ecotourism, organic farming and traditional food production. Its unspoilt environment is the region's most precious asset, not the fact that is located on the course of planned road, as local authorities seem to believe.

Most people in the local communities are so tired of having heavy traffis outside their homes that they welcome any construction that will take it move it away - although in the same time they are very attached to their natural heritage and would be very unhappy to lose it. Unfortunately, they were manipulated by lobbies involved in construction of the expressway to think that nature conservation is something opposed to safeguarding their quality of life, and that they cannot have both.

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LG.Philips LCD begins full-scale production at Poland factory

LG.Philips LCD Co., a major manufacturer of liquid crystal displays, said Sunday that it began full-scale production at its new factory in Poland to meet growing demand in Europe.

The plant, located in Kobierzyce, near Wroclaw in southwestern Poland, will produce screens mainly for 32-inch and larger LCD televisions, LG.Philips said in a statement. It is the company's second overseas factory.

The plant will assemble the screens from LCD panels produced at LG.Philips' two plants in South Korea by adding backlights and other basic components, spokeswoman Sue Kim said.

The screens will be sent to customers with nearby factories, including Royal Philips Electronics NV of the Netherlands and Japan's Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.

Philips has a TV plant in Hungary while Matsushita has one in the Czech Republic.

Japan's Toshiba Corp., which has a 19.9 percent investment in LG.Philips' Poland plant, is also constructing an LCD TV plant in the vicinity, with production scheduled to start in August 2007.

LG.Philips LCD competes with South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co. for dominance in liquid crystal displays, which are used in flat-panel televisions, computer monitors and notebook computers.

"The start of mass production and the establishment of a base in Poland have enabled LG.Philips LCD to secure a strong foundation for mutual growth with our customers in the fast-growing European LCD TV market," Kwon Young-soo, LG.Philips LCD's president and CEO, said in the statement.

The company plans to expand annual production capacity at the plant from an initial 3 million screens to 11 million by 2011.

Citing a report last month by market researcher DisplaySearch, LG.Philips said Europe accounted for 39.3 percent of the worldwide LCD TV market in 2006.

LG.Philips LCD is a joint venture between South Korea's LG Electronics Inc. and Philips Electronics.


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Low-fare air route to Poland takes off

NEWCASTLE'S Lord Mayor launched a low-fare air route from the North-East to Poland yesterday.

The Lord Mayor, Councillor Dianne Packham, formally declared the new easyJet route open to the city of Krakow.

She also helped the airline to celebrate easyJet's fourth anniversary at Newcastle International Airport and the introduction of the airline's seventh aircraft to its North-East base.

The Polish route will fly from Newcastle four times week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

An easyJet spokeswoman said the connection between Newcastle and the Polish community would benefit both business and leisure passengers.

The airline expects to carry almost 30,000 passengers during the first six months of operation, with more than 10,000 seats already sold before the inaugural flight took off.

Katie Stitson, easyJet marketing manager for Newcastle, said: "This new service to Krakow in the south of the country, close to the border of the Czech Republic, will allow businesses from the two regions to thrive."

Coun Packham said: "For many years, Newcastle has enjoyed a close relationship with the people of Poland and they have made a huge contribution to the cultural and economic life of the city. This direct flight to Krakow will ensure closer ties with this city."

Source: thisisthenortheast.co.uk

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Fundamentals of emerging markets remain healthy

ARKET corrections can be sudden and painful, but they should not distract investors from the bigger picture. While Europe's emerging markets have been hurt by higher volatility in recent weeks, the fundamentals underpinning stock market valuations in countries such as Russia, Poland and Hungary have not changed in any way.

Markets may have become more volatile in the short term, but the investment case for Eastern European and Russian stock markets is, in our view, as strong as ever.

The most important point we would stress is that even after several years of strong equity market returns, stocks in Russia and many parts of Eastern Europe still look reasonably priced, because of strong earnings growth. In Russia, the market is currently priced at about 10.3 times profit forecasts for 2007, compared with about 15.6 times for emerging markets as a whole and about 14.9 times for global developed markets.

One myth we are keen to dispel about Russia is that it is merely a petro-economy. Russia's huge natural resources certainly make up a significant portion of its exports, but the most important driver of economic growth now is domestic demand in areas such as household consumption, construction and infrastructure investment.

Oil and gas have certainly helped the Russian economy evolve rapidly in the post-Communist era, but their actual impact on economic growth is limited by the fact that 85% of every dollar made by oil companies over $40 a barrel is taxed away and the majority of the money raised from this is put into a stabilisation fund, which currently stands at around $104bn. This ring-fenced fund is essentially a rainy day fund and is a source of stability and confidence in the Russian economy, but it is not a driver of stock market returns.

While we do hold stocks in the oil and gas sector that meet our strict investment criteria, such as Gazprom (the world's largest gas producer) and Lukoil (Russia's largest oil producer), our Russian holdings are focused on stocks that are well placed to capture growth in domestic demand. Sberbank, for example, is by far the largest bank in Russia and is in an excellent position to benefit from growth in financial services such as mortgages and credit cards. Consumer loans currently stand at only about 5% of GDP, compared with 14% in the Czech Republic or 98% in the UK; so this has the potential to become a very significant market.

In Eastern Europe, our current preferences are for stocks listed mainly in Poland, Hungary, Austria, Turkey and the Czech Republic, though we do also hold small positions in countries such as Kazakhstan and Romania.

Again, valuations in these countries are attractive, all the more so given the recent market correction.

Their investment story is different to Russia. Membership of the EU is having a dramatic impact on recent entrants. Many countries in the region will benefit from EU development funds over the next five years. Between 2007 and 2013, EU development fund disbursements will total €60bn for Poland, €24bn for the Czech Republic and €22bn for Hungary.

Agricultural funds could double these figures. The EU estimates that structural funds will increase GDP by 7%-12% by 2013. Falling interest rates are also spurring domestic demand in a number of countries, most notably Poland, where retail sales, for example, increased on average 13% in 2006, a result of interest rates falling from 20% six years ago to 4% now.

A further benefit for these countries lies in their proximity to western European markets. 'Nearshoring' - outsourcing to locations close to home - is a rapidly growing trend among European companies looking to benefit from the region's low taxes and flexible, highly qualified and much cheaper labour forces.

For investors looking to access this growth, there are various approaches. In the UK, there are unit trusts that specialise in this region and you can typically invest in them with lump sums of between £500 and £1,000 or set up a regular savings scheme for a minimum of £50 to £100 a month.

Our portfolios tend to be run with relatively few holdings, but this is the way we endeavour to ensure that we only hold the very best companies operating across the region. The way we see it, there are some great companies operating in Eastern Europe at a time when most economies are powering ahead and stock markets are looking very good value.

Source: By Elena Shaftan, business.scotsman.com

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Poland's Sawrymowicz wins gold medal at swimming worlds

Poland's Mateusz Sawrymowicz won the men's 1,500 metres freestyle final at the world championships in Melbourne on Sunday, the Polish PAP news agency reported.

Sawrymowicz broke the European record.

Sawrymowicz, 19, took the lead after 500 metres and surged clear to win the longest race on the programme in 14 minutes 45.94 seconds.

Russia's Yuri Prilukov, the European champion, finished second in 14:47.29 after leading for the first 500 and Britain's Commonwealth champion David Davies was third in 14.51.21.

During the world championships Poland won four medals (one gold, two silver and one bronze).


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President Kaczyński failed to make Poland independent from Russian oil

Kazakhstan was expected to help Poland become independent from Russian oil. The Kazakhs want to invite Russians to cooperate, however.

Yesterday in Kazakhstan, talks started between the president of Poland Lech Kaczynski and the president of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev. Thanks to closer economic relations with the country, Poland hoped to get independence from Russian oil. Unfortunately, the first signals from Kazakhstan are discouraging. Kazakhstan president said that the Russians should be invited to take part in the Odessa-Brody pipeline and the import of Kazakh oil to Poland.

Just after the talks ended, yesterday in the evening, Russian Prime Minister Michail Fradkov was supposed to arrive to Kazakhstan. A day earlier, PKN Orlen representatives who are visiting Kazakstan with the president, learnt that Kazmunaigaz, the state-owned local oil giant, was not going to sign contracts with the Poles during the president’s visit.


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First Data to Buy Poland's Polcard

First Data International, a unit of First Data Corp., will buy Polish credit-card company Polcard SA for $325 million, as the unit continues to push into fast-growing Central and Eastern European markets.

The agreement is expected to close in the second quarter.

Polcard, based in Warszawa, Poland, has the largest network of electronic card acceptance devices in Poland, including more than 58,000 terminals and 1,700 ATMs, First Data said. Founded in 1990, Polcard processes around 170 million banking client transactions per year at its local authorization and clearing center. It had a 2006 revenue of $44 million.

Polcard is owned by Innova Capital, a private equity firm, and GTECH, a gaming technology and payment services company that is owned by Lottomatica SpA, one of the world's largest commercial lottery operators and a market leader in the Italian gaming industry.

First Data International has approximately 7,900 employees and operates across Europe, Middle East and Africa, Latin America, Canada, Australia and Asia-Pacific. First Data serves 4.9 million merchant locations and 1,900 card issuers and their customers.

First Data manages more than 11 million cards in Central Europe. First Data International opened an office in Poland earlier this year, and has a local management team in place to help integrate Polcard into First Data, the company said.

Poland is the largest market of the recent countries to join the European Union, with a population of 39 million, a strong and growing economy and a rapidly developing electronic cards market, First Data said.


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S&P upgrades Poland on strong growth prospects

Standard & Poor's hiked Poland's long-term foreign-currency credit rating to A- from BBB+ with a stable outlook, citing the country's strong and balanced growth prospects, but cautioning that political instability continues to constrain ratings.
"The outlook could be revised to positive if the government presents a clear, credible, and sustainable agenda for driving down fiscal deficits and the debt ratio," said Kai Stukenbrock, a credit analyst at Standard & Poor's, in a statement.
"Conversely, the ratings could come under downward pressure if populist agendas and government instability results in deteriorating fiscal balances, renewed debt buildup, or a weaker business environment."
In Warsaw, polish equities were slightly higher early Friday. The Polish currency, the zloty, was up 0.2% against the euro and the dollar.
S&P also raised Poland's long- and short-term local currency ratings to A/A-1 from A-/A-2, and affirmed the A-' foreign currency short-term rating.
A member of the European Union since 2004, Poland has a population of 40 million, which gives it enormous economic and business potential. The Warsaw stock market is the biggest and most liquid in Central Europe. It has outperformed other regional markets, boosted by a strong domestic investor base and solid economic growth. See Investing in Central Europe.
GDP grew at 5.8% last year. The Economist Intelligence Unit has forecast growth of 5.6% in 2007 and 4.8% in 2008. Read more about Poland.
The three-party governing coalition of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose twin brother, Lech, is Poland's president, has been racked by in-fighting. The three coalition partners -- the dominant Law and Justice Party, the populist Self-Defense Party and the Catholic nationalist League of Polish Families -- have failed to implement key economic reforms.
"The coalition around the Law and Justice party remains volatile, ridden by scandals and continuous threats of government breakup and early elections," S&P said. "The government's composition and instability weaken prospects for market-oriented structural reforms and accelerated budgetary consolidation."
Lars Christensen, senior analyst at Denmark's Danske Bank, said the upgrade was justified since Poland, together with the Czech Republic, has the strongest balances among the Central and Eastern European countries.
"Even though the upgrade is positive, it should also be noted that S&P says the political situation will be key to further rating changes, and the negative political situation continues to be a drag on Poland's rating," Christensen said.
S&P's rating of Poland had been one notch lower than Fitch's (A-) and two notches lower than Moody's (A2), he said. Therefore, "to some extent, the upgrade reflects an "alignment" of the S&P rating with that of Moody's and Fitch."
Istvan Zsoldos, analyst at Goldman Sachs European Economic Research, said: "We think that the rating upgrade is a well-deserved recognition of Poland's fundamental strength, and we expect a strengthening Polish zloty trend, especially as the National Bank of Poland is moving closer to hike rates."
Source:By Polya Lesova, marketwatch.com

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