Gov’t examining ELPE, DEPA privatization alternatives

The energy ministry is believed to be examining alternative scenarios for stakes in energy companies held by TAIPED, the state privatization fund, to be discussed during the bailout’s fourth review, as the implementation of any of these would previously require the approval of the country’s lenders.

The only certainty at this stage is that energy minister Giorgos Stathakis and, possibly, other government members, too, want to avoid selling the entirety of stakes held by the Greek State in Hellenic Petroleum-ELPE (35.5%), DEPA, the Public Gas Corporation (65%) and PPC, the Public Power Corporation (17%). Greek government officials will pursue solutions that would ensure the Greek State’s control in these energy-sector firms.

It remains to be seen if Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos will support such an effort. Likewise, it is not clear if the government has any leeway to renegotiate alternative policies for these energy-sector firms.

Stathakis appears to be looking for solutions offering utilization of the Greek State’s stakes through the new super privatization fund, superseding TAIPED, a subsidiary. These thoughts, echoing those of Panos Skourletis, his predecessor at the energy ministry’s helm, were highlighted in a recent interview with local Sunday paper “Ethnos Tis Kyriakis”.

The sale of the Greek State’s 35.5 percent stake in ELPE, a highly profitable enterprise, would demand a high price, energy ministry officials told energypress, making clear this firm is being viewed as a special case.

A major international asset valuation firm recently estimated the market price of ELPE at 4.8 billion euros, according to other sources. It should be noted that potential buyers would also take on the firm’s debt, currently at a level of two billion euros. The valuation was made as part of a study to measure the level of investor interest in ELPE. It concluded that no firms from the west would be willing to provide such amounts for ELPE. The same probably also goes for investors in other regions, including China.

Issuing convertible bonds representing equivalent amounts of the Greek State’s stakes in ELPE and DEPA is a scenario being considered by Greek officials, as this would delay the sale of state-held utility shares for future periods, when it is anticipated that the Greek economy will have improved. It is not clear whether Tsakalotos, the finance minister, supports this plan.

Sources closely linked to Greece’s bailout proceedings told energypress that bond issues ultimately increase debt levels, which contradicts the Greek debt-reducing effort, one of TAIPED’s objectives. The lenders will most likely not accept a bond issue proposal for ELPE and DEPA.

A hybrid plan is being considered for DEPA. It includes the addition of a strategic partner combined with a bourse listing.

TAIPED’s Asset Development Plan agreed to with the country’s lenders and recently endorsed by KYSOIP, the Government Council for Economic Policy, will be difficult to overturn. Besides the aforementioned energy-sector firms, this plan also includes the Athens and Thessaloniki water supply and sewerage utilities, EYDAP (11%) and EYATH (23%), respectively.