DEPA sale to spill over into 2019, many steps still needed

Revisions presented to a parliamentary committee last week for a complete ownership split of DEPA, the public gas corporation, and DESFA, the natural gas grid operator, promise to settle a pending bailout-related issue concerning distribution network ownership but many steps still lie ahead before the DEPA privatization, another bailout demand, is completed.

Although the government has included this sale’s proceeds in the 2018 national budget, the privatization is not expected to be finalized until 2019. Pending issues include the need to split of the gas utility’s commercial and distribution network divisions into two companies.

The energy ministry and country’s lenders agreed on a DEPA privatization model during recent fourth-review bailout negotiations but its specifics still need to be determined. The precise DEPA stake to remain with the Greek State and the sale’s time frame both remain undetermined.

Government officials have already unofficially admitted that it will be extremely difficult to announce two DEPA tenders offering investors stakes in the company’s trading and distribution network divisions within 2018, let alone collect the sale’s budgeted amount within the current year.

Negotiations between DEPA and Italy’s Eni for the latter’s full acquisition of the EPA Thessaloniki-Thessaly gas supply company, commercially dubbed Zenith, have been completed. DEPA previously held a 51 percent stake in this venture and Eni the other 49 percent.

However, DEPA has yet to finalize an agreement with Shell concerning the utility’s acquisition of the Dutch firm’s 49 percent share of the EPA Attiki gas supply and EDA Attiki gas distribution companies covering the wider Athens area. DEPA currently holds 51 percent shares in these ventures.

DEPA’s agreements with Eni and Shell both need to be completed to clear the way for the privatization. Furthermore, both agreements will require approval from related supervisory bodies, including the European Commission’s Directorate General for Competition. It is estimated the required approvals cannot be completed sooner than autumn.

The ongoing bailout-required sale of a 50.5 percent stake of ELPE (Hellenic Petroleum), which holds a 35 percent share of DEPA, is another crucial pending issue.

Also, related legislation will need to be ratified before DEPA’s tenders offering investors stakes in the prospective commercial and distribution network companies are announced.

Given all these pending steps, the DEPA tender for the commercial division could  be launched within 2018 but, realistically, the sale concerning the distribution network cannot be announced any sooner than early 2019.