DEPA partners question firm’s future prospects

Questions were raised yesterday over the long-term prospects of Public Gas Corporation (DEPA) at testimony by managers of public sector companies to a parliamentary committee which is considering a draft bill on the deregulation of the natural gas market. Called by the MPs to testify were DEPA Chairman Raphael Moissis, Public Power Corporation (PPC) Managing Director Dimitris Maniatakis and Hellenic Petroleum (HELPE) Managing Director Panos Cavoulakos. HELPE owns a 35 percent stake in the company, while PPC has an option to buy a 30 percent stake when the state, currently owner of the remaining 65 percent, divests itself of its holdings. Maniatakis, who is also PPC’s acting chairman following last Friday’s ouster of Yiannis Paleokrassas, did not commit his company to acquiring the DEPA stake. «We will not give up the option, but we will consider whether it is in the interests of PPC (to exercise it),» Maniatakis said. Responding to questioning by opposition MPs, Maniatakis did not deny that the PPC management is looking to alternative sources of natural gas procurement. «As a listed company, PPC must always look for the best prices and we are not going to be idle,» he said, refusing to exclude the eventuality of imports. Cavoulakos appeared doubtful about whether DEPA had been a good investment for his company. «We have invested 348 million euros, we have not received a dividend and an annual return on investment of 1-2 percent cannot be considered satisfactory,» he said. He added that similar companies abroad with more assured revenue thanks to the more widespread use of natural gas also have a high percentage of borrowed capital, suggesting that DEPA should look to borrowing for further expansion rather than to its main shareholders. Cavoulakos remarked that HELPE and DEPA have a strange relationship. «We are stakeholders, we are competitors in the energy market and we are also clients,» he said. Moissis expressed concerns about the way the natural gas market will function after its deregulation, adding that an expansion of the natural gas distribution network is crucial for the company’s success. He also asked for DEPA to be no longer shackled by rules applying to the civil service concerning the hiring of personnel. Deputy Development Minister Giorgos Salagoudis reassured Moissis and MPs that market deregulation will be beneficial both for DEPA, «if it is competitive» and for end users. He added that, as long as the state owned a stake in DEPA, it would finance the extension of its network.