ECONOMY

Gov’t favors a public offering of majority stake in Emproriki

The government is likely to sell a controlling stake in the country’s fourth-largest lender, Emporiki Bank, via a public offering, the economy and finance minister told the newspaper Isotimia on Saturday. «I think we must have an open procedure which will serve the interests of small shareholders: to have, in essence, a public offering, provided the highest bidder offers a premium so small shareholders can sell at this price,» Giorgos Alogoskoufis said in an interview. Earlier this week, a senior Finance Ministry official said the government would sell up to 24 percent of Emporiki as part of this year’s privatization agenda to raise 1.65 billion euros to pay down public debt, the highest in the eurozone. French bank Credit Agricole owns 9 percent of Emporiki and 11 percent of voting rights. The Greek government holds a 9.5 percent direct stake and an additional 30 percent indirectly through state pension funds. Asked whether Credit Agricole was interested in increasing its stake, Alogoskoufis said, «Credit Agricole has the advantage but if it is not the highest bidder, it must have the possibility to sell its stake.» Emporiki has a market value of 4.1 billion euros according to Reuters data. Alogoskoufis said the stake sale was open to everybody but he preferred a bidder with a «clear strategic character. It would be desirable to finish (this) in the first half of the year.» On 83 percent state-owned ATEbank, the minister said there would be a book-building, with the government aiming to sell 50 percent minus one share this year. The government also plans to float Postal Savings Bank (TT) by the summer and list Athens International Airport (AIA) on the Athens bourse in 2007, he said. A flotation of AIA, 55 percent state-owned, had been slated for this year. On the country’s largest telecoms group OTE, 38.6 percent-owned by the state, the minister said he did not see any bidders this year. Alogoskoufis also said the state planned to keep its 51 percent stake in dominant power utility Public Power Corporation (PPC) until the next elections, due by 2008. (Reuters)