Hellenic Post stake sale seen starting by year-end

Greece plans to begin the sale of its state-run postal company Hellenic Post (ELTA) this year, ahead of a deregulation of its postal services market, a government official said yesterday. Greece has been reducing its stakes in state-controlled companies to strengthen the economy’s competitiveness and to help pay down public debt, which at about 95 percent of GDP, is one of the highest in the eurozone. The conservative government was examining two different ways of privatizing ELTA but no decision had been made yet, Communications Ministry general secretary Giorgos Anastasopoulos told Reuters in an interview. «Our aim is to begin procedures to find a partner for ELTA in 2008, or list company shares on the Athens bourse and then find a strategic investor,» he said. Greece is targeting 1.6 billion euros in revenues from the sale of ports, airports and public companies this year, but has only raised about 450 million euros so far. Analysts estimate that the government could garner a further 150 million euros if it sells up to 20 percent of ELTA. Greece’s postal services market, with an annual turnover of about 600 million euros, is set to be deregulated by early 2013 as part of European Union competition regulations. ELTA, which reported profit of about 10 million euros on sales of 500 million euros in 2007, has about 850 branches throughout the country and only faces competition in its courier services, which is already liberalized in Greece. Analysts said the government may follow the example of telecom group OTE, which was first put on the Athens bourse and then sought a strategic partner. Deutsche Telekom has agreed to buy a 25 percent stake and share control of the group. The government has been selling stakes in former monopolies to improve domestic competition and help the companies expand into fast-growing Balkan markets. «All over Europe we are seeing moves to attract investors and strategic partners in the (postal) sector, and we want to see what interest exists in ELTA. It’s our final chance to get ready before the market frees up,» said Anastasopoulos. A strategic partner for ELTA’s courier subsidiary should be announced early next year, he added. Two companies out of an initial dozen that expressed interest will be asked to present binding bids. He did not name the suitors but Greek media reported DHL, UPS, Speedex, TNT and Imperio-Star were in the race.