Moment of truth for energy-sector privatizations has arrived

Greece’s energy minister Giorgos Stathakis and finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos will hold crucial meetings with the country’s lender representatives today, seen as pivotal for the shape of upcoming energy-sector privatizations.

Alternative approaches concerning the prospective privatizations of ELPE-Hellenic Petroleum (35%), DEPA-Public Gas Corporation (65%) and PPC-Public Power Corporation (17%), which the energy minister appears to be supporting, are expected to be tabled.

Stathakis is believed to be aiming to utilize part or all of these utility stakes through a transfer to the new privatization fund, whose framework includes a holding company allowing for improved asset utilization; convertible bond issues representing equivalent stakes; or some other plan that would ensure control of the utilities for the Greek State.

TAIPED, the state privatization, now a subsidiary of the new privatization fund, is already working on privatization plans agreed to with the lenders. It remains to be seen how the energy minister’s attempt to promote alternative scenarios will be received, if, in fact, these are discussed.

It appears that the finance ministry, well aware of bailout fourth-review repercussions any disagreement could provoke, is not in favor of structural revisions concerning the privatization plans already established with the lenders.

In the case of ELPE, enjoying a period of record profits, government officials are keen to achieve a solution that may reflect this success. A foreign evaluator, in a recent study conducted on ELPE, is believed to have put a price tag of 4.8 billion euros on the firm. Any prospective buyer would also need to shoulder the enterprise’s debt of two billion euros. The study, which also sought to measure the level of interest of investors, indicated that firms from the west, even beyond, including China, would probably not be willing to pay such an amount.

DEPA, too, has posted robust performance figures in recent times. In 2017, the firm’s natural gas sales exceeded 4 billion cubic meters, reaching 4.04 billion cubic meters, a 2 percent increase compared to a year earlier, while its net profit after tax amounted to 133 million euros, a 37 percent increase.

A hybrid solution for DEPA, entailing the entry of a strategic investor as well as the listing of company shares on the bourse, is possible.

As for ELPE, the Greek State and Paneuropean Oil, a member of the Latsis corporate group holding a 45.47 percent stake in ELPE, have begun discussions for a plan entailing offering 51 percent of ELPE to a strategic investor, plus managerial rights.

If any alternative plans for the ELPE, DEPA and PPC privatizations are adopted, then the government will need to somehow cover the three billion euros in overall privatization revenues it has agreed to over the next two years – two billion in 2018 and one billion in 2019.

According to the 2018 national budget, the ELPE, DEPA and PPC privatizations are expected to provide 850 million euros.