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Offline mayya

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A Humbug Xmas For Many Greeks
« on: December 22, 2013, 21:04:04 PM »
A Humbug Xmas For Many Greeks

By Andy Dabilis
 on December 22, 2013
 In Economy

Greek Christmas 2013 postcard: The Fairytale of Athens

ATHENS – Greek businesses are hoping against hope that shoppers will come out during the holidays, worried that ongoing austerity – which has seen workers stripped of their annual one-month Christmas bonus – will strip the season not just of its joy but of the revenues critical to keeping some companies alive in 2014.

Greece is ending a sixth year of a deep recession and while Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said he sees a recovery coming sometime next year that’s too late to save a lot of businesses depending on the holiday season that comes as many Greeks don’t have the money to splurge on gifts.
Even the once-festive atmosphere is largely gone, with few Greeks homes displaying decorations and cities and towns cutting back on lights and other signs of the period. The once-huge Christmas tree that used to grace the main Syntagma Square in Athens is gone – it was burned down by angry protesters three years ago – and replaced by the lit image of a ship, a more traditional symbol in Greece.

The elimination of the Christmas bonus has left Greeks – who’ve already seen their disposable income cut 46.8 percent – with even less to spend. Window shopping in Athens includes gazing into dirty, dusty empty storefronts with dead mannequins. None of this, of course, affects politicians and the rich who continue to prosper and whose Christmas will be merry and bright, not bleak.
For many Greeks buried under an avalanche of big pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions, Christmas is just another day on the austerity survival calendar.

“My budget for Christmas shopping will be limited. I will buy small gifts for my family and friends, but I cannot spend more than 200 euros (275 U.S. dollars), since my salary no longer exceeds 800 euros,” Michael Kathreptas, a 30-year-old employee in an advertising company, told the Xinhua news agency  “With my holiday bonus, I will buy a ticket for a summer concert abroad. It will be a gift from Santa!” he said.

Poli Kostourou, a 55-year-old private sector employee, said she would see her holiday bonus end up in the coffers of the Tax Office as taxes have had big hikes to go along with big pay cuts and slashed pensions. While public workers have seen the bonuses eliminated, some private companies still pay them.

“It will be difficult this year. My money will mainly go to the Christmas dinner, as it is very important for us, for the whole family to spend holidays together and to enjoy these days,” the mother of two children said.  “Unfortunately, we cannot spend the holiday bonus on gifts as in previous years, as the increased property tax awaits us in 2014,” she said.

The 2013 average Christmas budget in Greece is projected to be about 450 euros (619 dollars), down about 12.8 percent from last year, according to a recent survey conducted by market research group Deloitte.

The National Confederation of Greek Commerce (ESEE) expected austerity-hit Christmas sales this year, forecasting a 10.5 percent drop in turnover from last year to 6.8 billion euros (125 billion dollars.) The  2012 figure was the worst in a decade, 40 percent down on the previous year.
Given Christmas sales traditionally represent about 25 percent of the year’s revenues, shop owners expect things will get worse before getting better.  “We have a saying in Greece that each last year is better than the current one,” Aimilia Tsaini, a 32-year-old owner of a handmade gifts store in the center of Athens, told Xinhua.  But she added, “If we overcome the reef of the next six months, which are very critical, I believe we can hope for the better.”

That, of course, isn’t now, and the streets and stores just don’t seem to be as full as they used to at this time of the year and shoppers pass a lot fo empty store fronts while looking for bargains too, although some retailers are hoping that online sales might fill part of the void.

According to a recent survey, the on-line market of products and services in Greece was estimated to have grown by an impressive 25 percent to 3.2 billion euros ($4.38 billion) in 2013, up from 2.9 billion euros ($3.97 billion) in 2012.