* IMF-backed Romgaz sale set to launch by year-end
* Aims as much as 600 mln euros from stake
* In contrast to CEE, Romania imports less Russian gas
(Adds analyst comment, estimated market value, energy minister)
By Radu Marinas
BUCHAREST, Oct 11 Romania plans to offer 15
percent of its biggest natural gas producer for sale in a stock
market debut this year, part of privatisation plans agreed with
international lenders and which officials have said could raise
as much as 600 million euros.
Investors have criticised Bucharest for being slow to reform
an inefficient state sector, which is seen as holding back one
of Europe's poorest economies and deterring foreign investment.
"Romgaz is a strategic company for Romania and can rightly
be called the jewel of the crown of the Romanian energy sector,
due to its track record of performance over time," Energy
Minister Constantin Nita said in a statement.
"The quality ... and its growth potential make it the right
choice to be a flagship for Romania as the first Romanian
privatisation to be listed on the London Stock Exchange."
The company in a statement said it had named Goldman Sachs
International and Erste Group Bank AG as joint global
coordinators and joint bookrunners for the inital public
offering, while Banca Comerciala Romana SA and SSIF Raiffeisen
Capital & Investment SA were appointed domestic lead managers.
The company said it planned to apply for the shares to be
traded on the Bucharest Stock Exchange and for global depository
receipts (GDRs) to be admitted to the London Stock Exchange.
The offering is expected to be completed by the end of 2013,
subject to market conditions, it added.
The sale is part of privatisation plans agreed by European
Union member Romania and the International Monetary Fund, which
has led aid deals for the country since 2009.
Government officials said earlier this year Romania aimed at
raising as much as 600 million euros from the stake, which would
mean the whole company was worth about 4 billion euros ($5.42
billion). Local media have said Romgaz could have a total market
value of 2.5-2.7 billion euros.
Rival oil and gas group Petrom, controlled by
Austria's OMV, has a market value of $7.6 billion and
a share price which is about 5.4 times expected earnings per
share this year, according to Reuters data.
Romgaz has a share of 50.1 percent of domestic natural gas
output and supplied 41.7 percent of domestic consumption. The
rest of the gas is extracted by Petrom.
"The Romgaz IPO is a step in the right direction and will
help meet the commitments made by the government under the IMF
agreement," said Mihai Patrulescu, Unicredit senior economist.
"However, the government will also have to implement
structural reforms and fulfill its obligations."
The offer is open to institutional and retail buyers in
Romania and qualified international institutional investors
outside the United States. Investment fund Fondul Proprietatea
will keep its 15 percent stake and the state no more
than 70 percent.
Romgaz's core business segments include gas exploration,
underground gas storage and electricity production.
In 2012, Romgaz produced 5.7 billion cubic metres of natural
gas and is also the largest underground gas storage operator.
Its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and
amortisation (EBITDA) were 1.1 billion lei ($334 million) in the
first six months of 2013 against 1.2 billion in the same period
of 2012 on revenues of 3.8 billion lei.
Romania imports less than a third of its annual gas
consumption from Russia and produces the rest in local fields.
($1 = 3.2929 Romanian lei)
($1 = 0.7373 euros)
(Editing by Patrick Lannin)