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Slovak heating prices to rise again in March

Nearly half of Slovakia’s 350 heating producers will increase prices for households in March on higher oil and natural gas costs, the State Regulator (URSO) said on Wednesday.

The energy market watchdog approved demands to raise prices by up to 3.5% from March, following an average 0.4% increase in January. “The URSO decided on heating prices for 160 heat producers at the end of last week,” said URSO spokesman Miroslav Luptak. Luptak did not give an estimate of how the increase may be reflected in consumer inflation. He expected no further hikes as the heating season usually ends in April.

Heating prices are closely watched by financial markets because of their impact on inflation, which is a key challenge for Slovakia in the run-up to euro adoption in 2009. In November, the URSO allowed a 2.86% rise in electricity prices for households for 2008. The regulator had also ruled to keep natural gas prices flat this year.

Slovak inflation jumped to a 13-month high of 3.2% by EU standards in January on soaring food and energy costs, above the central bank’s forecasts. But the country still remained safely under the threshold for euro adoption. The government of leftist Prime Minister Robert Fico has tightened its grip over the energy market to secure a smooth euro zone entry. Protecting consumers against rising utility bills was a key promise that helped Fico win the 2006 election. (