Greece is beating its budget targets by a wide margin so far this year, preliminary figures showed today, although the country is still deep in recession.
Deputy Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said the state budget was estimated to have had a primary surplus of €2.6 billion for the months between January and July.
That is a far better result than its target of a €3.1 billion deficit, and marks the first time the government has logged a significant primary surplus.
The actual deficit, including interest payments, came in at €1.9 billion, also better than the targeted €7.5 billion deficit, the finance ministry's figures showed. The country posted a €13.2 billion deficit the same time last year.
The deficit now stands at 1% of gross domestic product, from 6.8% the same time last year, Staikouras said.
Greece has depended on international rescue loans since 2010. In return, it has pledged to overhaul its economy, and has imposed repeated waves of austerity measures. It has reduced spending across the board, including cuts to state salaries and pensions, and increased taxes.
The improvements in the budget this year were achieved by a combination of cutting spending and increased revenues in some taxes. It was also helped by a one-off payment of about €1.5 billion from other European central banks.
The money came from Greek government bonds that the European Central Bank had bought earlier during the financial crisis. Rather than keep the money accrued on the bonds, the ECB handed it down to the 17 national central banks in the euro zone, who in turn gave it to the Greek government.
Despite the improvements, however, the economy remains mired in the sixth year of a deep recession that has seen Greece's economy shrink by about a quarter.
Figures released by the statistical authority today showed that economic output shrank by 4.6% in the second quarter of 2013, compared with the same three months last year. The figures were not seasonally adjusted.
Unemployment is also painfully high, at a record 27.6% as of May. Almost two-thirds of young people without a job.
Separately, Greece also completed the sale of a 33% stake in its gambling monopoly, OPAP, to a Czech-Greek investment fund, Emma Delta. The sale is part of an ambitious but long delayed privatisation programme that is part of the country's bailout conditions. Greece sold the stake in OPAP for €654m, the country's asset development fund said in an announcement.