ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece posted a central government surplus in the first nine months of the year excluding debt servicing costs, putting it on track to hit fiscal targets that open the way for debt relief from its international lenders.

Greece expects to end the year with a primary surplus of 0.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) at general government level at the end of this year, based on its draft 2014 budget released earlier this week.

The government hopes this will allow it to seek further debt relief from its international creditors based on an agreement by euro zone finance ministers in November.

That, and forecasts from the IMF this week that backed Greece's prediction of a return to economic growth next year, have provided hope that Athens could finally be emerging from five years of debt-driven economic turmoil.

Other statistics on Thursday, however, showed continuing pain caused by the austerity measures forced on Greece by its EU/IMF bailout programme.

The jobless rate rose marginally to 27.6 percent in July from a downwardly revised 27.5 percent in June, more than twice the euro zone's average of 12 percent. Industrial output fell for the fourth straight month in August, dropping 7.2 percent.

Youth unemployment stood at 55.1 percent.

The central government had a primary budget surplus of 2.6 billion euros ($3.51 billion) between January and September, Deputy Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said.

Excluding one-off revenues from the European Central Bank, the surplus came to 1.1 billion euros.

"The national target for a small, sustainable primary budget surplus at general government level becomes all the more attainable," Staikouras told reporters.

The budget data provide an approximate indication of how the country's finances are shaping up. At central government level, they are not directly comparable with bailout targets as they exclude budgets of local government and pension funds.

The budget figures are also on a cash basis, whereas those against which Greece's performance is judged will be based on an accrual basis, which classifies revenues and expenses under a different methodology.

(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas and George Georgiopoulos; editing by Patrick Graham)

 

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