Latsis Group adds to itsHellenic Petroleum stake

The Latsis Group yesterday increased its participation in refiner Hellenic Petroleum (HELPE) through the acquisition of a block of 3,279,230 shares representing a 1.07 percent stake in the state-controlled company. The transaction, carried out by Kappa brokers on behalf of EFG Eurobank, owned by businessman Spyros Latsis, was closed at 11.02 euros per share. It appears that the same block had been transferred a few days ago between international investment houses for 10.53 euros per share. This move appears to be part of Latsis Group’s strategy to gradually expand its share and assume the management of HELPE by 2008. Before the transaction, the Latsis Group owned 33.1 percent of HELPE through Paneuropean, a group company. It is also said that it controls another 3.5 percent through third parties. The Greek state directly owns 35.3 percent and pension funds, represented in shareholder meetings by the finance minister, own a further 7.5 percent. The Latsis Group first bought into HELPE in June 2003, acquiring a 16.65 percent stake through Paneuropean. Soon afterward, an agreement with the state provided for the merger of HELPE with Latsis’s own refiner, Petrola. The merger upped the group’s stake in the combined company to 24.68 percent. The stake was expanded to 32.88 percent in summer 2004, after DEKA, the state portfolio management company, sold to Latsis a stake which it had tried to sell to private investors through convertible bonds managed by National Bank and Swiss bank UBS. The remaining share acquisitions were made through the market. After yesterday’s acquisition, the Latsis Group appears to control, directly or indirectly, 37.7 percent of the company. The HELPE-Petrola merger contains a clause to the effect that the state will cease to appoint the management in 2008 and that the latter will be elected by the shareholders’ annual general meeting. The state still controls, indirectly or indirectly, the biggest chunk of shares, but the Latsis Group is already preparing for a management takeover. The HELPE-Petrola merger left just two refiners in Greece, HELPE and Motor Oil, the latter owned by the Vardinoyiannis family.