ECONOMY

All Serb state firms to be sold by 2008

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia aims to sell all its state-owned companies within 18 months, and will double the speed at which firms are put on the block to achieve that, Economy Minister Mladjan Dinkic said yesterday. «Our goal is to finish the privatization of state-owned companies by end 2008,» Dinkic told a news conference. «To do that we have to sell 60 companies every month, instead of the 30 that has been the case thus far.» Since Serbia’s privatization agency started working in 2002, more than 1,700 state-owned companies have been sold with a total revenue of -1.88 billion in cash and pledged investment of -1.1 billion. More than 1,000 companies, including Yugoslav-era conglomerates and other huge firms now going through bankruptcy procedures, are still awaiting privatization. «We have to speed up bankruptcy procedures and make them more transparent,» Dinkic said. Any companies that are not attractive and fail to get bidders at auction should file for bankruptcy, so their price goes down and they are sold faster, he added. Dinkic’s long list of companies that are up for sale suggested a busy autumn for investors in the Serbian market. The once-dominant department store chain Robne Kuce Beograd will be sold in an auction in October, and the Genex conglomerate – which branches out into wheat trading, meat exports, tourism, aviation and real estate – is to follow soon after. A tender for the partial privatization of oil monopoly NIS is expected to be announced in the fall, while an adviser for the sale of of flag carrier JAT is expected to be named soon. Several companies including Russia’s Aeroflot have expressed interest in buying JAT. Analysts say that the revenues as well as the disbursement of firms that currently live off the state will take the heat off the country’s budget. «The state is still subsidizing many companies that are not privatized,» said Jurij Bajec, a professor in economics in Belgrade.