Analysts say OMV group is steering clear of acquiring a stake in ‘too far south’ ELPE

VIENNA – Acquiring a stake in Greece’s top refiner Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE) does not seem a top priority for Austrian oil and gas group OMV, analysts who met the OMV management said yesterday. Greece’s Finance Ministry said on Thursday that it would invite all potential investors on Friday to submit binding bids for a 23-percent stake in ELPE by April 5. In August 2001, an OMV spokeswoman told Reuters that OMV was interested in ELPE, though the Austrian firm has never said whether it would definitely bid for the Greek state-controlled refiner. «My impression was that Greece is maybe a bit too far south for them,» said Alfred Reisenberger, an analyst at Bank Austria who attended OMV’s meeting with analysts on Thursday. «All this discussion about acquiring stakes in central and eastern European companies – it’s no longer the main issue for OMV,» he said. «I get the feeling they want to focus on internal growth.» Erste Bank analyst Klara Szeffky said that OMV, which is still in the running for a 17.6-percent stake in Poland’s top refiner PKN Orlen, seemed to be less interested in ELPE than in PKN. «I don’t think OMV could handle both PKN and ELPE. They’re both very big deals,» she said. «I would expect OMV to give priority to PKN over ELPE. It’s a much bigger deal.» OMV, which had repeatedly said it wanted to be the leading player in the consolidation of the central European energy sector, recently instituted a policy of declining to comment on its acquisition interests while negotiations are in progress. Reisenberger said that his impression was Chief Executive Wolfgang Ruttenstorfer saw OMV’s chances of winning the PKN stake over Hungary’s oil and gas group MOL as slim. «And I personally agree,» said Reisenberger. «PKN itself has become more a political issue than anything else.» Last year, the outgoing Polish government decided to begin exclusive talks with MOL for the coveted PKN stake, seen as a key piece in the regional consolidation puzzle. After failing to strike a deal with MOL, the government began parallel talks with MOL and OMV for the stake earlier this year. A decision is expected in April. On Thursday, OMV announced record 2001 earnings, despite a plunge in fourth-quarter profits due to the sharp decline in oil prices. Operating profit (EBIT) jumped 24 percent last year to 610 million euros ($537 million). Turkey’s lira currency has lost around half its value against the dollar since the crisis struck in February last year and Akpinar said the company, with debt and infrastructure expenses in foreign currency, was still trying to catch up. Turkcell has slashed capital expenditure to $197 million in 2001 from just under $1 billion the year before in a bid to hold down costs and manage end-2001 total debt of $1.64 billion.

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