Greece Natural Gas Shale Gets Interest

ATHENS - Greece has received expressions of interest from more than five companies about the sale of state-owned gas company DEPA and natural gas grid operator DESFA, a deal the government sees as a one of the jewels in its ambitious, but long-delayed privatization plan.

An official from Greece's privatizations agency, Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, said Tuesday the final number of companies that show interest in the asset sale may change before the end-March deadline for potential bidders to tender expressions of interest.

"The agency will hold a board meeting April 4 and an announcement on the privatization is likely then," the official told Dow Jones Newswires.

Greece is striving to raise EUR19 billion in state asset sales by 2015 that will go towards easing its massive debt load. Its initial privatization program pledged to raise EUR50 billion from state companies and property by 2015, but that was revised sharply downwards after the government made little progress in selling off assets over the past two years and the country struggled to find investors.

The sale may also be seen as a key test of investor appetite in the country after Athens recently completed an unprecedented bond swap plan, wiping off more than EUR100 billion from its debt load.

The Greek government is considering selling the natural gas company--together with its wholesale, trading and gas supply operations--as well as DEPA's natural gas grid operator DESFA. DEPA's sale combined with the majority stake in DESFA could net EUR1.5 billion-EUR2 billion, according to analysts' estimates. The Greek budget estimates the value of DEPA alone at EUR991 million.

"Some of the companies are interested in both assets, while others just want some part of what is being sold," the official said.

Earlier this month, Russian state-owned gas firm OAO Gazprom said it is considering taking part in the auction with its Greek gas infrastructure joint venture Prometey Gaz.

The Hellenic Republic owns 65% of DEPA and the other 35% is owned by Hellenic Petroleum SA, which itself is partially owned by the Greek state. The two have agreed to jointly sell their respective stakes in DEPA Group.

The invitation for bids comes at a key moment for the country, which has recently agreed on a second bailout package worth EUR130 billion with euro zone countries and the International Monetary Fund.

Along with recent steps to privatize its national lottery, Greece has announced plans to sell seafront properties on the tourist islands of Corfu and Rhodes, as well as the broadcasting center Greece built for the 2004 Olympic Games.


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