Gov’t says DEPA sale going well

The government is pushing ahead with the sale of gas utility DEPA to Spain’s Gas Natural but is uncertain of finding a buyer for flag-carrier Olympic Airlines, a senior Finance Ministry official said yesterday. «The first priority (of the privatization program) is the (sale of) 34-35 percent of DEPA to Spain’s Gas Natural,» Deputy Economy and Finance Minister Petros Doukas told Flash radio. Gas Natural in February agreed in principle to buy 35 percent of DEPA for 285 million euros ($353.6 million), but the deal was delayed by a change in government following the March 7 election. The DEPA deal would be Gas Natural’s largest venture in Europe and the biggest investment by a Spanish company in Greece. DEPA is a gas importer and transport company with stakes in distribution companies. The government is targeting at least 1.5 billion euros in revenues from privatizations in 2005, crucial to its goal of cutting the budget deficit to 2.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) next year from a forecast 5.3 percent this year. Following the DEPA sale, the focus will be on the flotation of 25 percent of the state-owned Postal Savings Bank on the Athens bourse, Doukas said. «These two are already scheduled,» he added. On the search for a buyer for Olympic Airlines, Doukas said the carrier’s hefty losses and global record-high oil prices had discouraged prospective buyers. «No business group, in Greece or abroad, has yet shown interest, due mainly to the fact that Olympic Airlines is still posting losses of at least 100 million euros annually,» he said. Last week, the government said it would make a fresh attempt to privatize the airline after failing to find buyers in the latest sale effort. (Reuters)