Romgaz will not be sold but floated on stock market

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania will not sell its prized natural gas producer Romgaz to a strategic investor but will consider listing it on a stock exchange along with other companies from the energy sector, a minister said yesterday. The government had planned to sell a majority stake in the country’s second-biggest gas producer this year as part of its strategy to overhaul the debt-ridden energy sector before expected European Union entry in 2007. But Economy Minister Codrut Seres told Reuters in an interview that the initial Cabinet plan to give up control over Romgaz was no longer on the table. «We do not need a strategic partner,» Seres said. «Romgaz needs a different approach. Either listing on a stock exchange both in Bucharest and abroad or a minority shareholder with a management agreement.» The ministry had aimed to sell a 30 percent stake in Romgaz followed by a share capital increase to boost an investor’s stake to at least 51 percent or sell a majority stake directly. In addition, the ministry had planned listing of up to 15 percent of Romgaz and other state-owned firms to boost activity on the illiquid Bucharest stock exchange. Credit Suisse First Boston was hired to advise the Cabinet on what would be the best strategy for Romgaz and its recommendation should be ready early next year, Seres said. «There’s no urgency to sell 51 percent of Romgaz… and I really think that discussing its privatization is a topic for the next two years,» he said. Six major companies have expressed an interest in taking over Romgaz, which produces about 7 billion cubic meters of gas annually, over the past months. These firms are: E.ON Ruhrgas, BASF unit Wintershall, Russia’s LUKOIL, Gazprom, Gaz de France and Hungary’s MOL. Romania’s gas consumption is the highest in Eastern Europe at 18 billion cubic meters a year. It covers about 65 percent of its needs from its own sources and imports the rest from Russia. New listings Seres also said the government had no intention to sell the monopoly gas pipeline operator, Transgaz, but said the firm’s shares should appear on the Bucharest bourse sometime next year. «Transgaz will not be sold to a strategic investor for sure. We have a similar plan as with Transelectrica and plan to list 15 percent,» he said. Last month’s offering of a 10 percent stake in power grid Transelectrica was almost six times oversubscribed. Fully state-owned Transgaz reported a turnover of 770 million lei (216 million euros) and a net profit of 138 million lei in 2005. It transported some 16.2 billion cubic meters of gas last year. Seres said the bourse listing may also be the best option for the planned sale of three smaller electricity distributors, Electrica Transilvania Nord and Sud and Electrica Muntenia Nord, which serve some 3.4 million clients in total. «The last three distributors are not such big companies so there might be a recommendation to privatize them in a package of two-plus-one,» he said.