Socar deputy headed to Athens for DESFA sale negotiations

Socar vice president Vitaly Baylarbayov is scheduled to visit Athens tomorrow to dissuss details concerning the ongoing and delayed attempt for completion of a 66 percent sale of DESFA, the natural gas grid operator.

Over the weekend, RAE, the Regulatory Authority for Energy, reached a decision on the network usage fee price level to be proposed for DESFA as well as an investment yield figure.

A meeting in Athens less than a fortnight ago between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Socar president Rovnag Abdullayev, who insisted on seeing the Greek head of state, helped ease the tension generated between the two sides as a result of the unfinalized deal. The less highly-strung conditions are allowing officials to focus on technical matters but further political intervention cannot be ruled out if a deal remains beyond reach. Socar has extended a letter of guarantee for the DESFA sale by a month until the end of October.

Socar emerged as the winning bidder of an international tender in 2013 for 66 percent of DESFA at a price of 400 million euros. The European Commission eventually decided that the Azerbaijani company must surrender at least 17 percent to a certified European operator, lowering Socar’s stake rights to no more than 49 percent. Most recently, Greece’s energy ministry engineered an amendment that significantly reduces DESFA’s revenue potential. This move caused a stand-off and prompted Socar officials to lower their estimate of the Greek operator’s market value. Greek officials have remained adamant on the sale price level.

Technical issues at play in the current negotiations include finding a satisfactory dividend yield rate for DESFA’s shareholders. Also, the officials are examining a network usage tariff increase that would also be reasonable for industrial enterprises and households.

All scenarios are possible at this stage. Neither the sale’s completion nor debacle has been ruled out.

The role to be played by Italy’s Snam, a potential buyer of the stake that Socar needs to surrender, will be pivotal. Snam may end up acquiring as much as 30 percent of DESFA if the deal proceeds.