DEPA strikes takeover deal with Shell, guarantees included

DEPA, the public gas corporation, and Shell concluded long-running negotiations over the weekend for the former’s acquisition of the Dutch firm’s 49 percent share of the EPA Attiki gas supply and EDA Attiki gas distribution ventures covering the wider Athens area.

The two sides needed to stretch a June 6 deadline agreed to by the government and country’s lenders before striking a deal. It is expected to be approved by the DEPA board tomorrow while an extraordinary shareholders’ meeting is expected to immediately follow for final approval. TAIPED, the state privatization fund, now control’s DEPA’s 65 percent and ELPE (Hellenic Petroleum) holds the other 35 percent.

The agreement between DEPA and Shell was reached for 150 million euros, as had become widely known long before the weekend’s deal.

Following much resistance, the Dutch firm ended up providing long-term guarantees covering any pending tax issues that may arise in the future, including tax matters or accidents resulting from faulty infrastructure development. Also, Shell has committed to terms that would block any future market reentry attempt by the Dutch firm, including indirectly, as a member of an investment scheme, or via any special purpose vehicle (SPV).

Shell was represented in its EPA Attiki joint venture with DEPA, the majority partner with a 51 percent stake, through a special purpose vehicle (SPV).

Once finalized, the DEPA-Shell deal will need to be endorsed by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Competition. The same goes for DEPA’s agreement already reached with Italy’s ENI for the latter’s acquisition of the Greek gas utility’s 51 percent in the EPA Thessaloniki-Thessaly gas supply company. ENI initially went into this joint venture holding a 49 percent stake and now stands to gain full control of the gas supply firm for 57 million euros. However, DEPA will maintain its 51 percent stake in the EDA distribution company covering the Thessaloniki-Thessaly area.

The completion of all these matters will enable the DEPA privatization plan, to offer investors two separate subsidiraries representing the utility’s trading and infrastructure divisions, to go ahead. According to energy ministry sources, DEPA’s considerable cash deposits for 2017, totaling 250 million euros, will be divided between the two prospective subsidiaries.

The Greek State intends to sell a 50.1 percent stake of DEPA’s trading subsidiary, which is expected to draw major investor interest, and retain a 14.9 percent for veto rights concerning matters of strategic importance, especially international gas supply agreements. Two major Greek players, Mytilineos and ELPE, as well as European firms have already expressed interest.

As for DEPA’s infrastructure subsidiary, the Greek State will initially maintain its current stake of 65 percent and, depending on decisions to be taken at ELPE for its 35 percent stake in the gas utility, could sell a 14 percent stake to keep 51 percent.

Recent competition committee action taken by Motor Oil to protested  DEPA’s EPA Attiki takeover plan, promising to give the gas utility control of the wholesale and supply markets in the wider Athens area, could prove to be an obstacle.

Speaking on the sidelines of an Economist conference in Athens last week, energy ministry officials appeared unperturbed. They pointed out that DEPA’s presence is being reduced to one supply firm from two, while adding this development will be followed by the sale of a majority stake in DEPA’s prospective subsidiary representing the trading division.