September 12, 2018 / 2:16 PM / 3 months ago

Agrokor to return to normal business in 2019 -crisis manager

ZAGREB, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Revamped Croatian food group Agrokor is expected to exit state-run administration in the first half of 2019 if a court rules in favour of a settlement deal reached among creditors, Agrokor’s crisis manager Fabris Perusko said on Wednesday.

Creditors of Agrokor approved a settlement deal in July after the largest employer in the Balkans collapsed under 7 billion euros ($8.12 billion) of debt, equivalent to around 15 percent of Croatia’s gross domestic product.

Zagreb’s High Commercial Court is now assessing appeals by a few local firms and small shareholders who are dissatisfied with the deal.

“We’re already almost fully prepared to be able to implement the deal once the High Commercial Court gives its ruling, which we expect later this year,” Perusko told Reuters in an interview.

“I believe the court will confirm the settlement as everything was done in a proper legal way.”

Agrokor’s creditors include banks, bondholders and suppliers and Russia’s Sberbank will become the biggest single shareholder once the restructuring deal is implemented.

Agrokor, whose troubles have been compared by many to Italian dairy company Parmalat’s collapse in 2003, employs some 52,000 people in Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Serbia.

IMPROVING PERFORMANCE

The Croatian government appointed a crisis manager to Agrokor in April 2017 in line with an emergency law which was adopted to protect the Croatian and other Balkan economies from the company’s looming collapse.

Perusko said his team was now very much focused on improving the performance of the company, while the new owners plan to boost Agrokor’s value in the next few years before offering it for sale.

“We have been working on appointing new managers and improving corporate governance. For example, in the past ... decisions were not taken on the basis of facts and figures, but rather voluntarily. We have started to change this,” he said.

He also said that Agrokor is looking to boost its operating profit (EBITDA) through synergies, or cost savings, between its retail, food production and agriculture businesses.

In the first seven months of 2018 Agrokor had revenues of 13.5 billion kuna ($2.11 billion) and EBITDA of 1.1 billion kuna.

Perusko said he was particularly proud of the performance of Agrokor’s retail chain Konzum, which remained the market leader in Croatia during the crisis, losing just three percentage points of market share and now holds 22.4 percent.

He also said he was confident Agrokor would be able to access market financing again soon, allowing it to refinance a loan taken to avoid bankruptcy which carries an interest rate of eight percent.

“Since the agreed interest rate would rise further from January, we’re already in talks to refinance that loan on commercial terms,” Perusko said. ($1 = 0.8623 euros) ($1 = 6.4087 kuna)

Reporting by Igor Ilic

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