(Adds Japanese companies’ response)
By Fabian Cambero
CARACAS, June 16 (Reuters) - Venezuela is interested in buying a minority stake in the Venalum aluminum smelter that six Japanese companies want to sell, Venalum’s president said on Tuesday.
The Japanese firms led by chemical maker Showa Denko said last week they wanted to sell their stake after a dispute with the government, which controls Venalum, over prices and shipments.
Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has nationalized large swathes of the economy and has stepped up pressure on the private sector in recent months with a new wave of takeovers and by exerting authority over companies.
The moves are part of a push to build a socialist society where all key industries are controlled by the state and focused on domestic consumption rather than exports.
Venalum chief Carlos Acosta told Reuters the government was still studying the value of the companies’ 20 percent stake, but expected to have a price within two months.
“Within two months it is very possible that we will have completed the valuation,” Acosta said, adding the Japanese partners were looking to pull out of the deal because of low prices for the metal.
Venalum is 80 percent owned by the state with the rest distributed among Showa Denko KK (4004.T), Kobe Steel Ltd (5406.T), Sumitomo Chemical Co Ltd (4005.T), Mitsubishi Materials Corp (5711.T), Mitsubishi Aluminum and Marubeni Corp (8002.T).
The Japanese companies told Reuters on Tuesday the government informed them over a year ago that it wanted to buy them out, but had never come up with an offer.
“We have received no proposals since April last year,” said Yasushi Munakata, the Japanese partners’ representative in Venezuela.
Munakata said the partners now hoped for a quick answer from the government to negotiate a final price.
“Our expectation for the value of the shares is the book value of the company,” he said.
Acosta said the company had not changed its 2009 production estimate of 436,000 tonnes of aluminum and said the government was not looking for new partners in the company. (Additional reporting by Patrick Markey; writing by Frank Jack Daniel; editing by Andre Grenon)