* Slovenia's Lasko to sell 23 pct stake in Mercator
* Clears path for sale to Croatia's Agrokor
* Sign Slovenia serious about offloading assets
(Recasts, adds details, background, quote)
By Marja Novak
LJUBLJANA, June 14 Slovenia's privatisation
prospects received a boost on Friday from the sale of a stake in
a local retailer owned by companies and banks in which the state
The sale of state assets is important because it is a core
part of the government's bid to stabilise Slovenia's finances
and avoid becoming the latest member of Europe's currency union
to need an international bailout.
Despite the sale not involving a directly state-owned asset,
the move was seen by some analysts as a signal of the euro zone
member's commitment to privatisation and to loosening the
state's grip on roughly 50 percent of the economy.
Pivovarna Lasko, a local drinks maker, said it
would sell its 23 percent stake in the country's largest food
retailer Mercator to Croatian food producer and
The decision paves the way for the sale of the whole of
Mercator, with Lasko being part of a consortium of 12 local
firms and banks which want to offload their combined 53 percent
stake in the struggling retailer.
The Slovenian government does not directly control Mercator
but has stakes in the companies and banks that do. A previous
plan to sell Mercator had collapsed in 2012, seen at the time as
an example of Slovenia's reluctance to sell state assets
The latest sale agreement could therefore be a signal that
further privatisations will follow. The government plans to sell
another 15 firms, among them telecoms operator Telekom
, to reduce the burden on the state budget and improve
"It seems that the sale of Mercator will go through this
time," said Marko Rozman, head of investment in the treasury
department of Dezelna Banka. "This is a signal that Slovenia is
in a situation when privatisation can no longer be avoided."
Agrokor will pay 120 euros per Mercator share, local media
reports said, valuing the whole company at 450 million euros
Officials at Agrokor and Mercator declined to comment on the
reported figure, which is little more than half the value of the
previous bid by Agrokor in early 2012.
That sale collapsed when previous Mercator management
refused to give Agrokor access to perform due diligence on the
Shares in Mercator jumped by 11.8 percent to 105 euros on
expectations that the company would be sold.
Slovenia is the only former ex-communist state that so far
refused to sell its major banks and a number of large companies.
The country is struggling to avoid seeking a bailout from
the European Union and International Monetary Fund, with its
banking sector, mostly state-owned, nursing some 7 billion euros
of bad loans.
Mercator, which operates stores in Slovenia, Croatia,
Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia and Bulgaria, posted a loss of 8.6
million euros in the first quarter of this year.
($1 = 0.7519 euros)
(Editing by Matt Robinson and David Holmes)