Greek Jobless Rate Down, Stocks Up

ATHENS — Rocked by political instability and feuding over election of a Greek President that has made markets anxious, Greece’s beleaguered coalition government got a smidgeon of good news with figures showing the jobless rate dropped and stocks rose after a sharp plummet.

After hitting a record rate on the back of crushing austerity measures imposed on orders of international lenders, unemployment dropped to 25.5 percent in the third quarter from 26.6 percent in the previous quarter, a noticeable improvement except for the 1.2 million people still out of work and those who aren’t being counted anymore because their benefits have run out after a year.

The Dec. 18 figures from the Hellenic Statistical Authority, which are not adjusted for seasonal factors, showed the rate fell by 6.9 percent compared to the same three months last year, when it stood at 27.2 percent. Young people continue to be the most badly affected, with unemployment in the 15-24 age range standing at 49.5 percent, although it had been close to 64 percent at one point.

Officially, Greece’s six-year-long recession came to an end earlier this year but it hasn’t been noticeable in society where there is still deep poverty and resistance to pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings implemented on demand of the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) which has put up 240 billion euros ($306 billion) in two bailouts.

The Athens Stock Exchange fell off a cliff after Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras had to give up his bid to take an early exit from the rescue package deals and was forced to accept a two-month extension that could come with further tough conditions as the government continues negotiations with the Troika over unfinished reforms and how to close a three billion euro gap in the 2015 budget.

It got worse for Samaras when his choice for a symbolic Greek President, New Democracy Vice-President Stavros Dimas couldn’t get enough votes in a first round of balloting in the Parliament and now faces one or two more attempts. If it fails, the government will have to call early national elections with polls showing the anti-austerity, anti-bailout, anti-Troika Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leading.

All that made stocks tank but they curiously began to recover a bit on Dec. 18, a day after the Presidential debacle for the government and with SYRIZA promising to revise the bailout terms or renege on the loans if elected.

The Athens Stock Exchange came back from losses of more than 3 percent to close with gains of almost 1.5 percent, along the lines of other European bourses.

The Athens Exchange (ATHEX) general index closed at 874.69 points, adding 1.47 percent to the Dec. 17 finish at 862.06 points. The large-cap FTSE/ATHEX 25 index expanded 1.18 percent to end at 279.84 points.

Jumbo outperformed with gains of 7.42 percent, ahead of METKA (up 5.39 percent) and National Bank (4.64 percent). Aegean Airlines lost 2.19 percent. In total 58 stocks went up, 42 declined and 20 stayed put. Turnover reached 94 million euros, up from Dec. 17th’s 90.2 million.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)