Change of Owner at Gas Utility Imminent
Speculations surrounding who will gain control over gas utility SPP as the French and German investors contemplate their withdrawal are now starting to take shape, with the energy holding of financial group J&T and two Czech billionaires most likely to become the new owner.
While in Berlin this week, PM Robert Fico even discussed the issue with his German counterpart, Chancellor Angela Merkel, with the agreement that neither of them would interfere with the sale. Chancellor Merkel probably couldn’t care less, but the sale of SPP is of crucial importance to the plan of Robert Fico’s government to regain some kind of managerial control over the most profitable company in the country.
Ficos has been open to the idea of Energeticky a průmyslovy Holding taking over part of the gas company, where the state currently holds a 51% stake, but with limited powers as the minority shareholders of E-On Ruhrgas and Gaz de France negotiated managerial control when the company was privatised. The holding, affiliating Daniel Kretinsky, J&T and Peter Kellner, has been chasing the stake for some time and has already held talks with the foreign owners of SPP.
“We are clearly a strategic investor. Our interest in SPP is long-term. We believe that the offer that we submitted will prove that we really are a good partner and our entry to SPP will be positive for the state and the company”, reacted head of the holding Daniel Křetínský earlier.
Now with the blessing of PM Fico, the transfer could easily go ahead, with a number of possible outcomes. If a new owner enters the company, the Articles would have to be revised, meaning Slovakia could fight to regain managerial control as the majority shareholder, and Fico has made it clear that this is one of his primary objectives.
The government took an unusual step last week by opting for a different model for operation of the transmission system as part of the Third Energy Package than the one planned to date, which works more against SPP. Company spokesman Peter Bednar said the draft revision to the Energy Act, which has already passed the first reading in the National Council, imposes the obligation on SPP to start immediately with preparations for the sale also of the transmission system operator Eustream, if it is to make the deadline set out in the law.
SPP has therefore started proceedings to sell off its most lucrative subsidiary Eustream as it claims it would be faced with sanctions if it did not proceed with ownership unbundling of the operator. This means the current proposed revision of the Energy Act determines that after the law takes effect the company Eustream would have to have a different owner than its parent company SPP.
The Ministry of Economy is saying that the sale of Eustream is not written in stone and the option of leaving the company under the ownership of SPP is also still an option. According to spokesman for the Ministry, Stanislav Juríkovič, the government has until the end of September 2012 to analyse potential future steps.