ECONOMY

Sell-off projects are put off but some receive additional value

Several significant privatization projects that had been scheduled for the first quarter of this year have now been postponed until the second quarter, because just as the government, the state privatization fund (TAIPED) and analysts were starting to discern somewhat better prospects, the situation was thrown into confusion by developments in Cyprus.

The uncertainty is confirmed by the increase in project postponements – which range from days to weeks – regarding the expressions-of-interest phases of various state asset sell-offs. This problem first disrupted the complicated projects for the privatization of gas firms DEPA and DESFA and the OPAP gaming company, while the processes of selling off foreign-based real estate properties, the Astir Palace Hotel at Vouliagmeni and others have now been affected.

Of equal importance is the backward slide in planning the start of a series of sell-off projects, as the Egnatia Odos highway, small ports and marinas and regional airports privatization projects have apparently been put off from the first to the second quarter of the year.

Worse, the sell-offs will now be conducted in the uncertain climate resulting from developments in Cyprus. New TAIPED chief Stelios Stavridis implied this during a recent speech in Parliament, when he said that any rise in the price of assets right now would render the sell-off program more difficult to implement. A market insider added that any investors who choose to take the high risk of investing now would only do so with the expectation of high yields, which Greece would have to secure for them.

It is in this direction that the government has moved in the last few days, with OPAP securing additional exclusive rights – concerning the monopoly in Internet betting and the increase in the maximum number of slot machines in each of its agents’ shops from 25 to 50 – and wit hthe condition for the submission of a letter of guarantee for 20 percent of the offered amount in the DEPA and DESFA tender about to be lifted. The latter was the outcome of two visits by Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller to Athens this month.