Two Czech firms emerge as PPC unit sale’s surprise contenders

The emergence of two Czech firms, EPH (ENERGETICKÝ Α PRŮMYSLOVÝ HOLDING) and Indoverse Coal Investments Limited, for expressions of interest in the first round of the main power utility PPC’s bailout-required sale of lignite mines and power stations, is the procedure’s surprise development so far.

Expressions of interest by three major local players, GEK-Terna, Mytilineos and ElvalHalcor, a member of the Viohalko group, joined by Beijing Guohua, a wholly owned subsidiary of China’s Shenhua, had been widely anticipated.

EPH is the most recent buyer of lignite units in Europe. The Czech firm acquired facilities with a total capacity of 8,000 MW in 2016. Located in Germany’s east, these lignite units were sold by Sweden’s Vattenfall. Roughly half were built in the 1980s and the other half about two decades ago.

Vattenfall, a state-owned firm, is believed to have sold these units to EPH in order to reduce its portfolio’s exposure to CO2 polluting lignite.

The corporate size of EPH is comparable to that of PPC. Its assets are valued at 12.8 billion euros and annual total turnover reaches about 6 billion euros. However, the Czech firm’s profit figures are a lot more robust. The company’s most recent EBITDA figure was reported at 1.9 billion euros.

EPH maintains assets in central Europe – Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Hungary and Poland – as well as in Italy and the UK.

The EPH group was established in 2009 with the PPF group, which has invested in Greece’s OPAP state lottery, among its founding shareholders. Through subsidiaries, EPH controls and operates lignite-fired power stations, mines, telethermal systems, natural gas networks and storage facilities. It also operates as a coal trader and supplier of electricity and natural gas and owns a number of renewable energy units.

The main shareholder at EPH, 42-year-old Daniel Kretinsky, sold 31 percent of EPH Infrastructure to Australia’s Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets in 2016. Kretinsky also holds stakes in Czech media and is a co-owner of the Sparta Prague soccer club.

Indoverse, the other Czech firm to emerge for the first round of PPC’s sale, is active in the Czech Republic’s coal market and operates one power station and mines. Early this year, the company’s head, energy-sector investor Pavel Tykac, who is ranked one of his country’s five wealthiest individuals, declared an intention to invest over one billion euros in European coal-fired power stations.

Tykac has been involved in a number of contentious issues and has needed to face legal charges prompted by unorthodox business practices, including aggressive takeover attempts.

He is the sole owner of Sev.en Energy Group, Indoverse’s parent company. The Sev.en energy group is far smaller than Greece’s PPC. It produces approximately 10 million tons of lignite each year and operates a 410-MW lignite-fired power station.