ECONOMY

In Brief

Wind to pick preferred bidder next week Wind Hellas Telecommunications SA’s owner said it plans to pick a preferred bidder for its assets next week after identifying two possible buyers. Hellas Telecommunications II, the holding company of the third-largest Greek wireless operator, will hold talks with Weather Investments SpA and a committee of subordinated noteholders about a stake in the company, according to a statement issued in Athens yesterday. Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris owns the Hellas II group through his Weather Investments SpA. The company is seeking to restructure as much as 3 billion euros ($4.5 billion) of debt as the operating company grapples with falling sales and declining earnings. Hellas II’s assets are shares in the operating company and its Hellas IV unit, as well as intercompany debt. Identifying the two bidders is «a very positive development in the process to find a successful solution for the company, including a new cash equity investment and deleveraging the group’s capital structure,» Matthew Tippetts, director of Hellas Telecommunications UK Ltd, said in the statement. «The group is working with its creditors to achieve the necessary consent to implement a transaction.» Hellas II is «facilitating» discussions between the bidders and the company’s banks, as well as with committees representing holders of the company’s senior secured debt and most of its senior unsecured notes, according to the statement. (Bloomberg) Credit Agricole has no plans to merge with rival PARIS (Reuters) – French bank Credit Agricole said it had no plans for talks on a merger with rival Societe Generale and insurer Groupama, after Le Monde newspaper reported that Agricole was studying such a deal. «Credit Agricole says it has not engaged Societe Generale and Groupama in any talks and has no intention of doing so,» an Agricole spokeswoman told Reuters. Le Monde, citing its own sources, said Agricole Chairman Rene Carron and Chief Executive Georges Pauget were studying the possible three-way merger in the «greatest secrecy.» Le Monde said Agricole would initially approach Groupama over a merger. Groupama and Agricole would then together seek a merger with SocGen, in which Groupama already owns a small stake. However, the French newspaper added that Agricole’s own regional retail banks – which control the majority of Agricole’s capital – were against any such transaction. SocGen shares initially rose after Le Monde published its report but then pared those gains following Agricole’s response. SocGen was up 0.4 percent at 48.42 euros in early afternoon trade, giving the bank a market capitalization of roughly 29 billion euros ($43.6 billion). Credit Agricole, which has France’s biggest retail bank network, was down 1.5 percent at 14.45 euros to give Agricole a market capitalization of roughly 34 billion euros. Scam uncovered Bulgaria’s antitrust body said it has fined the local branch of Austria’s Raiffeisen International for luring mortgage customers with free insurance incentives that the bank later canceled. The bank, which said it might appeal the fine, had offered free life insurance from 2004 through to 2007 to mortgage customers without intending to maintain the policies, Bulgaria’s Commission for Protection of Competition said in a statement yesterday. (Reuters)