ECONOMY

Commercial Bank among seven bidders for Bulgaria’s Biochim

SOFIA (Reuters) – Seven bidders, including Bank Austria, the Commercial Bank of Greece and France’s Societe Generale, have confirmed interest in buying Bulgaria’s Biochim bank, a senior official said yesterday. Bulgaria offered for sale in October all of its 99.3-percent stake in the country’s fourth-largest bank by assets and set April 15 as a deadline for submitting bids, saying due diligence procedures could start from January 7. Other potential buyers included Bulgaria’s biggest bank Bulbank, majority owned by Italy’s Unicredito, two other local banks – Roseximbank and Hebrosbank – and Dutch-based financial consortium TBI Holdings, said Bank Consolidation Company (BCC) Executive Director Neli Kordovska. BCC is the government body in charge of bank sell-offs. «I am very optimistic and I think that we will manage to sell the bank (Biochim) by mid-year,» Kordovska told Reuters. «All potential bidders are invited to conduct due diligence and submit bids by April 15.» BCC launched a second attempt last year to sell Biochim through a sealed bid procedure and initially said it hoped to receive bids by late December. But later, BCC extended the deadline until mid-April, saying potential buyers wanted to see Biochim’s entire performance for 2001. Local companies are meant to issue annual profit and loss accounts as well as balance sheets by end-March each year under Bulgaria’s accounting law. A previous attempt to sell Biochim failed earlier last year when the BCC rejected the sole bidder, Hebrosbank, owned by Hong Kong investment fund iRegent, saying the offer of 26 million euros ($23 million) was too low. Kordovska said Biochim continued to improve its performance and raised net profit to 19 million levs ($8.65 million) for the first 11 months of last year. Figures for the comparable period of 2000 were not immediately available, but the bank had a net profit of 1.682 million levs for the full year 2000. Biochim ranked fourth among Bulgarian banks at end-September, when its assets stood at 612 million levs ($278 million), compared with a total 11.44 billion levs for the entire sector, figures from the central bank showed. Biochim’s equity capital and reserves stood at 67 million levs at the end of November, Kordovska said.