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Lasko and Banks Agree on Reprogramming of Loans

Lasko/Ljubljana, 21 June (STA) - The troubled beverage maker Pivovarna Lasko and creditor banks have come to an agreement on the deferral of loan payments due by Lasko in June to at least until the end of September this year.

Lasko representatives told the STA on Tuesday that the agreement includes the short-term and long-term loans of the Lasko brewery as well as of the Pivovarna Union beverage maker, which are both part of the Lasko group.

The STA found out from a source close to Lasko that EUR 165m worth of loans by the Lasko brewery are due by the end of the year, EUR 20m of which are long-term. Pivovarna Union moreover is expected to pay back EUR 100m, 70% of which are long-term loans.

In line with the agreement, the two companies will only pay the interests on the loans for now. The interest payments amount to between EUR 1.8m and EUR 2m a month.

While the Lasko source pointed to the missed chance for selling Lasko's 23.34% stake in retailer Mercator to Croatia's Agrokor for nearly EUR 200m, it highlighted the importance of selling Mercator and drinks producer Fructal at a normal price.

Less importance is being attributed to the sale of publishers Delo and Vecer or to a possible EUR 36.5m capital increase that Lasko shareholders will decide on at a meeting of shareholders on Friday.

The loan reprogramming agreement comes after Lasko and a group of banks signed a contract last week on selling a combined 50.03% in Slovenia's leading grocer Mercator. The banks, which include Lasko's major creditors, seized Mercator shares in the past as collateral for loans.

The group decided against selling its Mercator shares to Mercator's Croatian rival Agrokor in the face of an intervention by the Competition Protection Office, political opposition and hopes for a reprogramming deal.

According to some estimates, the call for non-binding bids for the majority stake in Mercator will be published at the end of August or beginning of September, and the sale wrapped up by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Lasko has received nine non-binding bids for the 93.7% stake in Fructal being sold by Pivovarna Union and will invite five bidders to submit binding bids.

According to unofficial information, the shortlist includes Serbian drinks producer Nectar, a British equity fund, an Austrian company (possibly Rauch), a fund from one of the former Yugoslav republics, as well as the Ajdovscina municipality, home to Fructal.

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