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Czechs plan raising limit for buy-out offers

The Czech Republic will raise the threshold at which majority owners of listed companies must offer to buy out minority shareholders, which may motivate share buybacks at some firms, analysts said on Thursday.

A newly adopted commercial code amendment, designed to harmonize Czech legislation with EU norms, sets a new cap for buyout offers when an investor’s share in a company reaches 90%, eliminating the current triggers of 67 and 75%. Analysts said the draft, which awaits the president’s signature to become effective, could free the state’s hands to increase its holding in central Europe’s top power firm, CEZ, without risking an expensive buyout offer. “There is speculation that this (legislation) might be linked to CEZ’s share buy-back ... as a safeguard for the state not to buy out minority shareholders,” said Robert Keller, an analyst at Patria Finance.

CEZ, which has a market capitalization of $44.5 billion, has already bought back 9.2% of its own stock according to Reuters’ calculations in an ongoing buy-back scheme. The firm said last month it was likely to cancel the shares it bought back, which would boost the government’s stake from the current 65.4%. Some analysts said foreign owners of several blue chips listed in the Prague bourse’s main SPAD segment might consider raising their stakes through buying back shares for cancellation or straight purchasing of additional shares.

France’s Societe Generale owns 60.4% of Komercni Banka, the third largest bank on the Czech market, while Spain’s Telefonica has a 69.4% stake in its local unit. Poland’s PKN Orlen, which holds 63% of Czech oil group Unipetrol, might also be among potential candidates for the stake increase, some analysts said. The law is aimed to take effect on April 1 (Reuters)