Two more years of major sell-offs

  • 2002-01-17
  • Bryan Bradley
VILNIUS - Lithuania's State Property Fund still has plenty of work to do to privatize the country's remaining large state-owned companies over the next two years. But after that it will need to consider changing its functions or assume new ones, the fund's general director, Povilas Milasauskas, told journalists on Jan. 10.

Since 1996, Lithuania has privatized 3,128 state- or municipal-owned companies and properties with total proceeds of 4.24 billion litas ($1.06 billion). Another 3,000 such assets remain to be sold, of which 1,700 are being prepared for privatization by the fund.

"We have fewer and fewer large and attractive items left to sell," Milasauskas said, noting that privatization proceeds of 468 million litas in 2001 amounted to only half the corresponding figure for 2000.

"But we expect sufficient income to continue working as we are now until about two years down the road," he added.

Milasauskas predicted that sell-offs during 2002 would earn the state at least 500 million litas.

That would include completing the sale of a 76-percent stake in the land bank Lietuvos Zemes Ukio Bankas to Germany's Norddeutsche Landesbank during the first quarter of the year. The terms of that deal should be finalized before the end of January.

The gas utility Lietuvos Dujos is also high on the list. France's Gaz de France and a consortium of Germany's Ruhrgas and E.ON are taking part in a tender for a 34-percent strategic stake in the natural-gas distribution company. The State Property Fund hopes to complete that sale in May, and then in June announce a new tender to sell a second 34-percent stake to a Russian gas supplier.

Large stakes in two shipping companies, Klaipedos Transporto Laivynas and Lietuvos Juru Laivininkyste, are slated for sale during the second half of 2002, likely through the Lithuanian bourse.

The national air carrier Lietuvos Avialinijos could also go on the block this year, Milasauskas said.

Privatization advisers are due to report back to the government in late January on how, or even if, the sale should proceed in light of the now complicated situation of the world airline industry. There were previous plans to sell 49 percent of the company.

Last but not least, 85-percent stakes in two power distribution companies that were separated from the power utility Lietuvos Energija on Jan. 1 are due to be transferred to the State Property Fund later this year for privatization.

However, those sell-offs will not be completed before 2003.

Antanas Malikenas, the fund's privatization director, noted that the Lithuanian government recently issued a decree, according to which all new privatization tenders will publicly name the target price that the state hopes to get, while potential buyers will need to back up their offers with a bank guarantee.

The changes are intended to improve transparency, he explained.

During 2001, Lithuania completed 842 privatization agreements. The largest of these were the sale of 76 percent of the Lithuanian Shipping Company to Denmark's DFDS Tor Line for 190 million litas plus investment commitments of 240 million litas, and the sale of 91 percent of the savings bank Lietuvos Taupomasis Bankas to Estonia's Hansapank for 150 million litas with investment commitments of another 150 million litas.

Five other objects, including electronics-maker Vilma, were sold for 500,000 litas or more and acquired by Lithuanian investors.