I'm sorry if I have to give another Hungarian lesson to my readers but István Gaskó's choice of words forces me to. Gaskó's "general strike" that shrank from 3 million participants to tens of thousands and most likely in reality fewer than that abruptly ended today at noon. The strike began at midnight and was supposed last for eighteen hours. In plain language it was to end at 6 p.m. This is not the first time that Gaskó ends a strike earlier than announced. But he always finds some creative way of explaining that the early close actually meant a great victory. This time the explanation was a linguistic sleight of hand. He announced that "a sztrájk sikeres volt de eredménytelen." "Sikeres" means successful. Its antonym, "sikertelen," means unsuccessful but so does "eredménytelen." That is, it's a synonym of "sikertelen." I assume István Gaskó believes that most Hungarians are so ignorant of their own language that they will think that this debacle was in fact the greatest success in the history of Hungarian trade unions.
It was doomed from the start. During the night, that is between midnight and six o'clock in the morning, 70% of the trains were moving. After the shift change at six o'clock 90% of the trains left for their destinations. Mind you, there were not too many travellers because most people found other means of transportation anticipating the usual chaos at the railroad stations. I will be curious to see how Mr. Gaskó further embellishes his "success with no results" when he makes his rounds of the TV stations.
Meanwhile there is some good economic news. The first is that Germany is slowly recovering from its economic slump. In March, for the first time in half a year German exports and imports both grew. While in February imports shrank by 4.8% in March they were up by 0.8%. And this is a welcome development for Hungary because the country is heavily dependent on exports. Germany is perhaps the most important trading partner of Hungary. Another good piece of news was that in March Hungarian industrial production grew by 4.3% over the previous month. The forint has strengthened in the last few days. At the moment 1 euro trades for 277.993 forints while at the beginning of March it peaked at 316.5 forints. See chart below. Of course, Hungarian exporters were happy with the weak forint. According to a businessman friend of mine an exchange rate of 1:290 would be just perfect. Those who took out loans in euros or Swiss francs would be less thrilled with a weak forint. Although it is true that some other currencies in the region have also fared well, the Hungarian forint has outpaced them. Even the most skeptical analysts admit that the Hungarian government's speedy reaction to the crisis and the parliamentary support it received made a difference. The Budapest Stock Exchange (BUX) is also showing signs of improvement. Like most world markets the BUX had a horrific start to the year, bottoming in early March. Since then it has recouped almost 50% of its value and is positive on the year. See chart. The situation is the same with OTP (Országos Takarékpénztár), Hungary's largest bank, and MOL, the oil refining company that plays an important role even outside the country. Another good bit of news is that after months of being unable to raise money by issuing government securities, yesterday not only were all issuances sold but they were oversubscribed. The ÁKK (Államadósság-kezelő Központ/Center for Handling State Debts) announced the availability of three-year, five-year, and ten-year bonds. Each offering was for five billion forints. The three-year securities were oversubscribed three times, the five-year four times, and the ten-year six times. Thus ÁKK eventually issued not five but six and a half billion forints worth of ten-year bonds. Some analysts hinted that it would be time to lower interest rates. All this gives a lift to the new Bajnai government.
Meanwhile the Pécs mayoral election, scheduled for Sunday, is heating up. MSZP decided to send 2,000 activists (mostly women) to Pécs to campaign in districts that used to be MSZP strongholds. Certainly not downtown. Meanwhile, Mr. Páva got cold feet. He and Katalin Szili were supposed to have a television debate tonight but in the last minute he bowed out. His alleged rationale was that his opponent's campaign is unfair and he demands an apology. One strange aspect of Páva's campaign is that although he is clearly Fidesz's candidate, he doesn't use the party logo or its orange color to identify himself on posters. I'm somewhat baffled. The only thing I can imagine is that Fidesz is unsure of itself in the contest and doesn't want to have too high a party profile in case of a loss. Whatever the case, I'm sure things will just get curioser and curioser.