* Surplus hits 1.24 bln eur in 2013; first since records
began in 1948
* Tourism receipts rise to record, imports slump to
* Debt relief also a factor in surplus
* Figure doesn't mean Greece's economy now competitive
By George Georgiopoulos and Harry Papachristou
ATHENS, Feb 19 Record spending by foreigners as
Greece's tourism industry slashed prices helped the country's
current account post its first surplus last year since official
data began in 1948, central bank figures showed on Wednesday.
Current account deficits have been a drag on the Greek
economy for decades, offset with borrowing and capital
investment from abroad.
The payments gap swelled to 15 percent of national output in
2008 after the country entered the euro zone, fed by a
debt-fuelled economic boom that led to a consumption frenzy on
But the ensuing debt crisis in 2009 plunged the country into
an economic depression that shrank its economy by almost a
quarter, helping Athens correct the imbalance and leading to a
current account surplus of 1.24 billion euros last year, or
about 0.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
Tourism receipts, the country's biggest foreign-currency
earner, rose 15 percent to a record 12 billion euros, while
Economists expect Greece to repeat a surplus this year but
say this does not mean that it has turned the corner yet towards
becoming an export-driven, competitive economy.
"For 2014 we expect the current account to stay in surplus
as imports will remain weak alongside improving tourism and
exports," said Eurobank economist Platon Monokroussos.
About half of the adjustment was due to cyclical factors
such as shrinking imports of goods, which dropped 54 percent
Just eight German Porsche luxury cars were sold
in Greece in 2013, down from 424 in 2009.
Helped by falling wages which have restored some of Greek
firms' lost competitiveness, exports of non-fuel goods rose 2.1
percent to 14.2 billion euros in 2013, putting them at about the
same level as in 2008.
The current account was also helped by debt relief provided
by Greece's lenders, which slashed interest payments by half to
about 6 billion euros in 2013.
"Sustaining the surplus in the longer term will depend on
whether the economy maintains its competitiveness and on its
capacity to increase import substitution with domestic
production," Monokroussos said.
"Wage growth must stay in line with productivity gains."