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Lasko Decides for Mercator Sale Via Bank Consortium

Lasko, 19 May (STA) - The supervisors of Pivovarna Lasko backed on Thursday the proposal of the management to have the beverage group join the consortium of banks which are selling a major stake in Slovenia's leading retailer Mercator. Lasko also reported a EUR 2.58m operating profit for the first quarter, a 20% improvement year-on-year.

Lasko, which has for months been trying to offload its 23.34% stake in Mercator to reduce its EUR 420m mountain of debt, expects that the consortium agreement will be signed before 10 June and that a majority stake in Mercator will be made available in the sale.

The decision to join the consortium, which would also consist of banks that want to sale shares confiscated as collateral from the ill-fated MBO attempt at Lasko, was taken after Lasko opted against selling to Agrokor. Mercator's Croatian rival was offering EUR 194m.

The no to Agrkor notably also came against the backdrop of Lasko being banned from disposing with its Mercator stock by the Competition Protection Office (CPO) and amid negotiations on refinancing for Lasko by some of the banks involved in the consortium.

While the CPO had issued the same ban on the banks - NLB, NKBM, Abanka Vipa, Banka Celje, Gorenjska Banka and Banka Koper -, arguing they had acted in concert with Lasko at the 2009 shareholders' meeting of Mercator, the competition watchdog said this week it would not object to the consortium sale.

The shareholders also confirmed today 24 June as the date of Lasko's general assembly meeting, at which shareholders will have another go at restructuring the group into a contracting group, a proposal backed by 65% of the shareholders last year but rejected by NLB.

Also discussed will be a capital increase, with chairman Dusan Zorko speaking today of the need for EUR 109m in fresh capital. He added that a lower figure would be proposed at the assembly.

Zorko also touched on the refinancing of loans, pointing out it was not the optimal solution as it came attached with interest rates. The group's breweries Pivoarna Union and Lakso pay between EUR 1.8m and EUR 2m monthly in loan interests, he illustrated.

Meanwhile, the supervisors were happy today to get acquainted with the first quarter results of the Lasko group, which include EUR 2.58m in operating profit, and a 9.6% year-on-year improvement in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization to EUR 4.2m.

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