Business News

Majority Stake in Mercator to Be Put on Sale

Ljubljana, 15 June (STA) - A consortium of eleven shareholders of Mercator signed on Wednesday an agreement on the joint sale of a 50.03% in Slovenia's biggest retailer, the NLB bank said in a press release. The consortium mostly consists of banks which have seized Mercator shares as collateral for loans and beverage group Lasko.

The agreement was signed by banks Abanka, Banka Celje, Gorenjska banka, Hypo Alpe Adria, NKBM and NLB, investment funds NFD 1 and NFD Holding, and Pivovarna Lasko along with its subsidiaries Pivovarna Union and Radenska.

According to the coordinator of the consortium sale, Cvetka Selsek of the French-owned SKB bank, the signing means that a 50.03% stake in Mercator is on the market and that the sale procedure can begin.

She expressed hope that other owners will also join the sale and that more than 60% of Mercator will be available eventually in order to attract a partner which would see a strategic interest in the retailer.

Selsek, who expects great interest in the package of Mercator shares, added that the sellers will not put forward conditions about who is allowed to buy Mercator.

While according to unofficial sources the call for non-binding bids is expected to be published at the end of August or beginning of September, Selsek has estimated that the sale could be concluded by the end of 2011.

Pivovarna Union is Mercator's biggest owner, holding a 12.33% stake. NLB follows with 10.75%, the Lasko core company with 8.43%, Unicredit Slovenija holds 8.01%, NKBM 5.24%, Splitska banka Societe Generale and the AZ fund 4.87%, Gorenjska banka 3.80%, Rodic MB 3.34%, Abanka Vipa 2.75%, Radenska 2.57%, Banka Koper 2.07%, Hypo 2%, KLM 1.63%, and Unicredit Austria 1.51%.

The agreement comes after the Pivovarna Lasko group, which holds a combined 23.34% stake in Mercator, decided against the sale of its stake to Croatian retailer Agrokor at the beginning of May. Lasko is selling the stake to reduce its significant debt.

Selling to Agrokor, which was offering EUR 221 per share or a total of EUR 194m, was one of the choices available to Lasko before the Competition Protection Office (CPO) on 26 April banned the troubled beverage group from disposing its Mercator stock.

Lasko later decided to join a consortium of banks which are selling shares in the retailer confiscated as collateral from the ill-fated MBO attempt at Lasko by its former boss Bosko Strot.

While the CPO had also banned NLB, NKBM, Abanka Vipa, Banka Celje, Gorenjska Banka and Banka Koper from selling their stakes in Mercator, arguing they had acted in concert with Lasko at the 2009 shareholders' meeting of Mercator, it later said it would not object to the consortium sale.

Lasko hoped that joining the consortium would help it reprogramme its loans, the bulk of which were due in June.

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