HELPE’s new chiefs set to reorganize

The new management of Hellenic Petroleum (HELPE), Greece’s biggest refiner, is planning an extensive reorganization of the corporation’s productive operations, aiming at a more energetic presence in the sectors of oil exploration and natural gas. Group President Timos Christodoulou and the new managing director, Panayiotis Kavoulakos, told reporters in their first joint meeting with reporters this week that HELPE’s increased interest in natural gas is closely tied to the government’s plans for the part-privatization of the Public Gas Corporation (DEPA), in which HELPE holds a 35 percent interest. The government is still negotiating the sale of another 35 percent stake to Spain’s Gaz Natural, and has still not made clear its intentions regarding the option of the Public Power Corporation (PPC) for the remaining 30 percent which it holds. HELPE would like to see these issues settled sooner rather than later so as to determine its own position regarding the management of DEPA. Christodoulou and Kavoulakos stressed that natural gas must form part of the broader strategy of the group, which must seek a more energetic involvement in DEPA, but they did not elaborate on how HELPE would pursue this prospect. Another open issue for the group is the handling of the 375-million-euro convertible bond loan which matures on July 27 and represents about 8 percent of its share capital. The loan was obtained in the summer of 2000 by the Public Portfolio Management Company (DEKA), with HELPE shares as collateral, and the government will have to decide whether to retain the corresponding stake in the corporation or sell it. The latter prospect brings into play Paneuropean Oil, the parent company of Petrola Hellas which was merged into HELPE last year, and is considered an interested buyer. Sources earlier this week indicated the government is inclined to retain the stake, raising its interest in HELPE to 41.8 percent. Irrespective of any such realignments, Christodoulou is placing top priority on the corporation’s organizational restructuring, aiming to boost the operational efficiency of its divisions. For his part, Kavoulakos, who has had a long experience in the petroleum sector abroad, said another immediate priority is the redrawing of investment plans with a view to improving return on equity for investors.