Uncertain future at PPC, surrounded by challenges

Main power utility PPC’s anticipated market share losses to be prompted by the upcoming bailout-demanded NOME auctions, beginning September, which will provide third parties with access to the utility’s low-cost lignite and hydropower source; persisting high levels of unpaid receivables; the prospective breakaway of subsidiary firm IPTO, the power grid operator; and maturing loans, all add up to create a potentially devastating situation at the utility.

Despite the changing electricity market’s new challenges, PPC appears entirely unprepared for the new era. The utility now seems to be hastily looking for solutions as if its administration and the country’s recent governments were unaware of the pressure applied by the European Commission over many years for the Greek electricity market’s liberalization and reduction of PPC’s market share.

Yesterday’s remarks offered by PPC’s chief executive Manolis Panagiotakis further indicated the magnitude of the challenges faced by the utility and its unpreparedness amid the new environment.

PPC now faces a very real threat of being dismembered for the ensuing sale of business units, a scenario being strongly rejected by both the government and the utility’s administration.

In addition to the alarming level of unpaid receivables, the anticipated sharp market share contraction as a result of the NOME auctions, and IPTO’s split, PPC also needs to deal with the recapitalization of maturing loans, to cost an estimated 1.5 billion euros for 2016 and 2017. A 1.2 billion-euro loan expires in 2018. PPC’s net debt amount, based on figures released last September, is 4.978 billion euros. The utility’s credit rating was downgraded less than a year ago by Standard & Poors.

Certain market officials predict that PPC will face acute financial problems in the spring season of 2017 if the current overall situation remains unchanged.

Placing the utility’s loan-related pressures aside, its financial standing will also be stressed by the prospective market share losses when the NOME auctions are launched in September. According to the plan, PPC’s market share must fall to 87.24 percent by the end of this year, 75.24 percent by the end of 2017, 62.24 percent by the end of 2018, and not exceed 49.24 percent by the end of 2019.

PPC’s turnover potential is expected to fall by between three billion and six billion euros as a result of these market share losses, while IPTO’s breakaway will further deteriorate this turnover setback.

Though PPC’s chief yesterday spoke of a small improvement in electricity bill payments, the utility’s unpaid receivables figure, currently at an alarming level of 2.4 billion euros, will not ease unless the economy begins to recover.

The concern at PPC appears to be limited to observations without specific proposals for the next day. Panagiotakis, for example, yesterday referred to cost-cutting plans without offering anything specific. He insisted that PPC units will not be sold, even though this would be an immediate reality if the NOME auctions fail to produce results. Panagiotakis also noted that partnership talks with Edison will not  continue. Talks are “now being held with others,” he noted, without elaborating any further.