Business News

Banks Approve Bridging Loan for Lasko

Lasko, 15 March (STA) - A consortium of banks, including state-owned NLB, has approved a EUR 13m bridging loan to Pivovarna Lasko, the STA found out on Tuesday from a source close to the troubled beverage group. The loan comes as Pivovarna Lasko is in the process of selling its 23.34% stake in Slovenia's leading grocer Mercator.

NLB already transferred its share of the loan, worth EUR 3m, to Pivovarna Lasko today, while the remaining banks are expected to follow suit in the coming days or weeks.

Talks on a bridging loan between the management of Pivovarna Lasko and a consortium of banks that are willing to extend a moratorium on loan repayments to Lasko until June were under way for four months.

Pivovarna Lasko needs the funds to purchase intermediate goods and raw materials before the start of the peak season for beverage sales, the STA found out.

The news comes after reports that a meeting that should have taken place on Monday between Zorko and Prime Minister Borut Pahor and Lasko chairman Dusan Zorko was cancelled at the last minute.

The STA learnt from well-placed sources that it was supposed to be one in a series of meetings planned by Zorko in a bid to stave off the sale of key investments owned by Lasko, including Mercator.

Business daily Finance reported that the meeting was cancelled after plans for it were leaked to the press, with Pahor not wanting to officially intervene in the contentious sale of Mercator, possibly to Croatian rival Agrokor.

According to unofficial information, a rift has appeared between proponents of a speedy sale of Mercator by Lasko and those who would like to repeat the bidding process in order to obtain better offers.

The latter camp allegedly also includes the chief supervisor of Mercator Robert Sega, who resigned on Monday as chief financial officer of Pivovarna Lasko.

Sega reportedly warned Lasko's managers and supervisor that a deadline of five weeks was too short for such a strategic decision.

He pointed out that Agrokor is also a beverage maker and that Lasko faces the risk of disappearing from store shelves in SE Europe.

Lasko is selling its stakes in Mercator and daily Delo in a bid to reduce its mountain of debt - the total debt together with subsidiaries allegedly stands at EUR 400m - caused by a failed MBO under the former management board.

It received three bids for the stake in Mercator, with reports saying that Agrokor had made the highest bid, followed by private equity firms Mid Europa Partners and Warburg Pincus.

But the potential sale to Agrokor - which media reports said was preparing a hostile takeover of Slovenia's top grocer by also seeking to buy stakes in Mercator held by several banks - has set off alarm bells in political circles.

A number of cabinet members have openly voiced opposition to such a sale, citing fears that this would hurt Slovenian food producers who rely on Mercator for shelf space at home and in SE Europe.

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