More OPAP shares go on sale

The governmentsaid yesterday it would sell down its stake in betting company OPAP as it speeds up its privatization agenda, putting pressure on the shares as investors bet the placement would be below market prices. The Finance Ministry said it would sell up to 16.44 percent of OPAP, a stake worth around 1.25 billion euros at current market prices, via a public offering to local and institutional investors and a private placement. The Greek state owns 51 percent of OPAP. The divestment will be the fourth tranche of shares sold by the government. Analysts said traders were banking on the offering being priced lower than the stock’s current value. OPAP shares closed 2.59 percent down at 23.30 euros, underperforming the broader market, which was up 0.42 percent from Thursday. «OPAP’s shares are down as some investors are selling, hoping to buy back at a lower price during the offering,» said Alpha Finance analyst Dimitris Giannoulis. The Finance Ministry said it expected to price the offering this month. Further details will be announced after the necessary approvals have been obtained. The Athens Stock Exchange said the placement of the stake, equal to 52.45 million shares, includes greenshoe and overallotment options for 6.3 million shares. The sale is scheduled to take place on July 13-29. OPAP also unexpectedly released yesterday first-half and second-quarter results, showing a 13.2 percent rise in first-half group sales, as its new numerical betting game Kino offset a sharp drop in revenues from its flagship Pame Stoichima game. First-half group sales increased to 1.7 billion euros from 1.5 billion in the year-ago period, with second-quarter revenue up 1.6 percent at 828.2 million euros. Pame Stoichima sales fell 31.8 percent to 602.7 million euros in the first half, while Kino revenues jumped 187.3 percent to 857.8 million euros. The former’s revenues were down 35.4 percent at 302.2 million in the second quarter, but Kino rose 94.3 percent to 412.2 million. OPAP had flagged Pame Stoichima’s earnings drop earlier this week as it announced plans to revamp the game. Pame Stoichima sales made up half of 2004 group sales, with Kino accounting for a third of the total. Kino, launched in late 2003, is now available countrywide and in Cyprus. The government is targeting 1.6 billion euros in privatization revenues this year, with the proceeds intended to reduce the national debt, which is among the highest in the EU. The privatization agenda for this year includes Agricultural Bank, 84.5 percent state-owned, telecommunications provider OTE, in which the state holds a 37.7 percent stake, Athens International Airport and the Postal Savings Bank.

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