Slovene Mercator owners want more from bidders

LJUBLJANA Fri May 17, 2013 8:20am EDT

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LJUBLJANA May 17 (Reuters) - Slovenian firms and banks want higher bids for their joint 53 percent stake in the country's largest food retailer Mercator, the largest shareholder Pivovarna Lasko said.

Investors see the sale of Mercator as a test case ahead of a plan by Slovenia's government to sell 15 state-owned companies, a step investors and economists say the country must take to avoid being pushed into asking for the euro zone's next bailout.

Although Mercator is not state-owned, banks controlled by the state hold some 19 percent and a failed attempt to sell it last year highlights the difficulty foreign companies face in trying to take over Slovenian firms.

A source close to the owners told Reuters Croatian food producer and retailer Agrokor made the higher of two bids, of 415 million euros for the company, or 110 euros per share.

The source said investment fund Mid Europa Partners offered less. Agrokor's bid is half the value of a 221 euro per share offer it withdrew in February 2012 because the company's former management refused to let it carry out due diligence.

Jernej Smisel, spokesman for brewery Pivovarna Lasko, which has a 23 percent stake in Mercator, said talks were continuing.

"The management of Lasko was mandated (by the supervisory board) to carry on talks for higher bids," he said. He would not name the bidders or the value of their offers. Lasko plans to use the proceeds to reduce its 350 million euro debt.

Agrokor and Mid Europa Partners gave no comment.

Mercator shares fell 4.17 percent to 92 euros by 1100 GMT amid fears that the sale could fall through again. The blue-chip SBI index lost 1.09 percent.

The banks gained most of their stakes in Mercator in 2009 in exchange for loans which they had given to companies related to Lasko which were not repaid in time. (Reporting By Marja Novak; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford)

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