ECONOMY

Mergers, acquisitions set to increase significantly

After a period in which business deals were extremely scarce, mergers and acquisitions will play an important role in 2003, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The study, titled «Mergers and Acquisitions in 2002,» shows that, despite the perception of a lack of business deals, there were 331 mergers, acquisitions and consortium creations. Of these, only in 136 cases (41 percent) were the sums involved declared, and those amounted to 2.5 billion euros. The biggest deal was the acquisition of state-controlled ETBA Bank by Piraeus Bank. But, as the incomplete available figures show, most of the deals did not amount enough to seem any significant part of total economic activity. The banking sector was one of the few in 2002 where deals were made. Other such sectors were construction, technology and telecommunications. The merger activity in construction was mainly the result of new state requirements from companies wishing to bid for public projects. Since this is perhaps the most dynamic sector of the economy at present – thanks to the Athens Olympics and available funds from the European Union – it was not surprising that construction companies responded promptly to the new requirements by forming strong groups. The study forecasts that technology companies will continue to merge in 2003, with the trend probably accelerating. It also sees increased activity in the energy and retail commerce sector. The major deals so far this year were the announcement of the takeover of Greek tobacco producer Papastratos by Phillip Morris and the merger of Hellenic Petroleum with Petrola Hellas, announced on May 30. In the retail sector, the study foresees more foreign retail operators entering the market and acquiring Greek chains. Interest is now focusing on deals related to privatizations. The case of the Postal Savings Bank interests many other banks due to its impressive mortgage loans portfolio. The State also plans to sell a 24.6 percent stake in soccer pool and lottery firm OPAP which could bring up to 700 million euros into its coffers, more than double the amount (326 million) earned by selling 16.65 percent of Hellenic Petroleum to the Latsis group as part of the Petrola deal. The longstanding plan to sell 35 percent of National Gas Corporation (DEPA) to a strategic investor also looks closer to realization after Spain’s Gas Natural confirmed its bid yesterday. Other upcoming deals include an initial public offering of Hellenic Tourist Properties and the sale of the State’s remaining 33 percent in Hellenic Stock Exchanges to Greek banks, due next month. There is speculation of more deals, such as a spin-off of a stake in National Bank of Greece or a further offer in Emporiki Bank (formerly Commercial Bank) to its minority investor Credit Agricole. And there is always the prospect of the sale of ailing state carrier Olympic Airways, which the State has been trying to sell for years, but which is vehemently opposed by the powerful Olympic unions. Besides the State’s pressing need for revenue, the coming merger spate is also a sign of restructuring in the industrial sector.