TAIPED pushing ahead with DEPA sale, much work needed

TAIPED, the state privatization fund, is keen to push ahead with the privatization of gas utility DEPA, but the sale’s timely launch, expected in March, according to the latest bailout terms, will not only depend on the fund’s intentions.

In essence, this privatization’s punctual progress is dependent on Shell and DEPA, currently engaged in advanced talks for the Dutch firm’s sale of its 49 percent stake in retail gas supplier EPA Attiki. DEPA holds a 51 percent stake in this venture and wants to increase its hold.

The DEPA privatization, to offer 65 percent stake of the gas utility, cannot proceed unless the Shell and DEPA dealings over EPA Attiki have been finalized. Also, the European Directorate for Competition will need to endorse any EPA Attiki changes.

A well informed source has informed that Shell and DEPA are close to agreeing on a price for EPA Attiki’s 49 percent. The price gap is believed to have narrowed significantly. For quite some time now, it has been rumoured that Shell has requested a sum of around 150 million euros.

Rothschild, acting as DEPA’s consultant, and Lazard, representing Shell, are expected to appoint a common evaluator for an official price estimate. The evaluation process is expected to take at least one month to complete. Then, the two sides will still need to agree on a price before competition authorities in Athens and Brussels decide whether DEPA’s continued presence in the retail gas market raises any obstacles.

Given all these requirements, the DEPA privatization’s launch date, scheduled for March, should prove to be an extremely difficult target date.

The Greek government is eagerly anticipating a finalized deal between Shell and DEPA as a reinforced retail and distribution role for DEPA through EPA Attiki would undoubtedly heighten the interest of investors once the gas utility’s privatization is launched.

The government and country’s lenders appear to have reached a compromise deal on DEPA’s reinforced role in EPA Attiki in exchange for DEPA’s sale of its 51 percent stake in EPA Thessaloniki-Thessaly to Eni.

If so, DEPA will remain a powerful enterprise commanding three major fronts. Besides gaining a retail and distribution monopoly in the wider Athens market, the utility will also stand as a key gas importer and control gas distribution in all parts of Greece not covered by the EPA firms, through DEDA.

If the European Directorate for Competition does not endorse DEPA’s anticipated new role, then TAIPED, the privatization fund, will need to reexamine the utility’s privatization or postpone it.

The lenders are pressuring by excluding the possibility of any futher extensions.

TAIPED announced a tender yesterday for a legal consultant to work on the DEPA privatization. Interested parties face a February 26 deadline.

It remains unclear whether ELPE (Hellenic Petroleum) will offer its 35 percent stake of DEPA along with the Greek State’s 65 percent. ELPE has repeatedly expressed an interest in the natural gas market.