Bulgarian Government to Sell Bulgartabac, Minority Stake in E.ON in 2011

Views on BG | October 6, 2010, Wednesday // 12:46|  views

Bulgartabac Holding currently operates two cigarette factories compared with nine in 2004 and its market share has shrank to some 40% from 60% a year earlier. The holding still owns a number of commercial brands. Photo by BGNES

By Elizabeth Konstantinova


Bulgaria, struggling to cover its widest budget deficit in a decade, plans to sell tobacco company Bulgartabac Holding AD, an arms factory and minority stakes in energy utilities next year.

The Privatization Agency estimates it will raise about 411 million lev (0 million) from asset sales in 2011, said agency chief Emil Karanikolov in an interview in Sofia yesterday. This year's proceeds are seen at some 100 million lev, mostly from minority stakes in small companies and penalties for breached investment commitments in companies already sold, he said.

"We still have a wide range of valuable assets, which we plan to sell next year," Karanikolov, 29, said. "Bulgartabak, the state's minority stake in the Bulgarian unit of E.ON AG, two big state-run construction companies and duty-free zones will be offered for sale."

Bulgaria has to bring its budget shortfall of 4.8 percent gross domestic product to the European Union limit of 3 percent by the end of 2011 or face penalties. The government of the EU's poorest country by per-capita GDP plans to narrow the gap to 2.5 percent next year as it recovers from its worst recession in a decade.

Almost three-quarters of Bulgaria's economy is private after it sold state assets in the two decades following the collapse of communism in 1990. The government still controls minority stakes in military equipment plants and seven power distributors.

Montagi Offering

Montagi EAD, a construction company involved in large industrial projects including power plants, is the first in the pipeline, Karanikolov said. Its assets are valued at about 70 million lev and it will be sold on the Bulgarian Stock Exchange at the end of the year or at the beginning of 2011, he said. Another state-owned builder, Technoexportstroy, will also be sold.

The agency will sell a majority stake in Sopot-based Vazovski Mashinostroitelni Zavodi or VMZ, the country's biggest military plant, after Parliament approves its sell-off strategy, Nikolov said. The plant produces guided missiles and a range of mortar bombs and artillery ammunition.

SKF AB, the world's biggest maker of ball bearings, bought VMZ's ball-bearings unit in 2002. The government will consider whether to sell its 35 percent stake in Arsenal, an assault- rifle maker that was sold to its management in 1996.

The agency will hold later this month a competition for an investment intermediary to sell on the Sofia-based bourse the government's 33 percent stake in an E.ON-operated electricity distributor, he said.

Power Distribution

"If its sale is successful, it will speed up the sale of the government's minority stakes in the other power distributors," Karanikolov said.

Germany's E.ON controls power distribution in northeastern Bulgaria, including the Black Sea city of Varna. The state holds 33 percent stakes in all seven power distributors, which were sold in 2005 to E.ON, Prague-based CEZ AS and Austria's EVN AG in the run-up to joining the EU.

Bulgaria on Feb. 26 selected Citigroup Global Markets Inc. to advise the government on its fourth attempt in a decade to sell Bulgartabac. The asset-selling agency signed the contract with Citigroup on Sept. 8 and expects in 50 days to receive its assessment and market research, Karanikolov said.

The government merged in March the asset-selling body with the Post-Privatization Control Agency, which ensures that buyers stick to their investment plans. The move helped cut administration costs and boost revenue, Karanikolov said.

The 14-month old Cabinet of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov expects the economy to grow 3.6 percent next year, exceeding an International Monetary Fund estimate of 2.5 percent. Bulgaria didn't seek loans from international lenders to overcome the credit crunch and the government refused to raise the EU's lowest taxes in an effort to attract investors.

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Tags: E.ON, energy utilities, arms factory, Bulgartabac


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