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Battle for stake in Croatia’s INA

Austrian oil and natural gas company OMV would like to acquire a 14-19% stake in Croat peer INA the Austrian business newspaper WirtschaftsBlatt wrote on Monday, citing anonymous inside sources.

INA’s further privatization and is also interested in a further 7% of the company currently residing in a fund for disabled former military personnel, the Austrian business newspaper WirtschaftsBlatt wrote on Monday, citing anonymous inside sources.

Earlier news indicated that the Croatian government is intending to privatize a further 14% stake in INA, which it would prefer to sell to Hungarian oil and natural gas company MOL. Croatian news portal, on Friday reported too, that MOL was in preliminary talks with the Croatian government about boosting its stake in INA via a share swap. “The rise is mostly driven by speculation about the new shareholders agreement between INA and MOL, which has to be fully defined yet. But it seems MOL is not the only suitor, there is also OMV,” said Hrvoje Stojic of Hypo-Alpe-Adria Bank.

An unnamed OMV spokesman told WirtschaftsBlatt that the company is “watching with interest” the process currently taking place at INA. The spokesman declined to respond to a question concerning possible negotiations between OMV and the Croatian government.

Shares in Croatian oil and gas group INA have jumped to a five-month high after news of plans by Hungary’s MOL to boost its stake sparked speculation of a rival offer from Austria’s OMV. At 1356 CEST (1156 GMT) INA shares rose 5% to 2,720 kuna after gaining as much as 7% in the session. Zagreb’s main Crobex index was up 1.3%.

Croatia’s government owns 44% of INA, after listing 17% of INA in Zagreb and London and distributing 14% to war veterans and INA employees. Currently, MOL owns a 25% plus one-vote stake in INA, which MOL bought in 2003 for $505 million.

Croatian business daily Poslovni Dnevnik reported on Monday, that OMV was also interested in buying the 14% stake which the government would swap with MOL, which already has a quarter of INA shares and which itself is a bid target for OMV. The paper also reported OMV was also considering making a bid for the 7% of INA that has been distributed to war veterans. A share swap would help MOL boost its stake without spending cash and would put shares in another set of friendly hands as it seeks to fend off OMV’s unfriendly approaches. It has already parked its stock in a series of lending agreements with friendly banks and Czech utility CEZ.

However Croats fear the company that buys a key stake in INA could easily dictate petrol prices on the Croatian market. Previously prices have been largely controlled by Croatia’s government eager to counter the effect of spiraling global crude prices and inflation. The government has capped the prices of gas and electricity for companies and households until July 1, and intervened to slow the increase of petrol product prices. (MTI, BalkanInsight)