LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - Slovenia is halting all privatizations until a new government is formed after a snap election on July 13, outgoing Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek said on Thursday, drawing a sharp response from the finance minister in her own government.
Analysts said the move was aimed at raising Bratusek’s popularity with voters, who generally oppose attempts to sell local companies. Finance Minister Uros Cufer called the decision a part of “pre-election hysteria”.
The decision could ultimately deter investors or bring down the prices of companies sold, analysts said, and delay much needed revenue for a country that had to inject 3.3 billion euros ($4.5 billion) into its banks in December to avoid an international bailout.
“We decided that no privatization can be completed and no new privatization can start until a new government is formed,” Bratusek told a press conference after a regular government meeting.
“Privatization processes can continue, but privatizations cannot be completed before the new government is formed so that the new government will have a chance to reconsider them.”
She said foreign investors were welcome in Slovenia but added the government took this step because privatization was “the hottest pre-election topic”.
Finance Minister Cufer did not hide his disappointment.
“I see this as a pre-election hysteria ... for which there is no rational reason and no excuse,” Cufer told reporters.
Bratusek’s center-left government last year earmarked 15 companies for privatization, two of which have been sold already. Others on the list include Slovenia’s second-largest bank Nova KBM, airport Aerodrom Ljubljana and telecom firm Telekom.
Slovenia, which joined the European Union in 2004 and the euro zone in 2007, has for years been reluctant to sell its major companies, citing national interests. The government still controls more than 50 percent of the economy.
The election was called after Bratusek lost the leadership of her center-left Positive Slovenia party and resigned in May.
Opinion polls show her new party, the Alliance of Alenka Bratusek, may find it difficult to pass the 4 percent threshold for parliamentary representation.
“This step is part of the election campaign, and if privatizations will indeed be stopped for now that will only reduce the price of the companies on sale,” said Primoz Cencelj, a fixed-income portfolio manager at investment firm KD Skladi.
Bratusek’s comment came hours after a local newspaper, Delo, reported the government had received six expressions of interest for the purchase of NKBM bank.
Local media also said France’s Vinci Airports and German’s airport operator Fraport were bidding for Aerodrom Ljubljana.
They said Slovenia had received eight non-binding bids for Telekom as well. State investment firm SDH, which is in charge of the sale, declined to comment.
Miro Cerar, who opinion polls suggest is likely to be the next prime minister, told Reuters on Wednesday he was against the sale of Aerodrom and Telekom but supported the privatization of NKBM bank.
Bratusek’s government had not published a target for funds to be raised from its planned privatizations, although analysts have said a figure of around 1 billion euros was reasonable.
Slovenia has already borrowed enough to cover its budget needs for 2014 and part of 2015. It expects a budget deficit of 4.2 percent of gross domestic product this year, down from 14.7 pct in 2013, when the deficit was boosted by the bank rescues.
($1 = 0.7331 Euros)
Editing by Larry King