"It certainly wouldn't take much time to find a good partner for Energotel."
Peter Čapkovič, account manager with telecoms firm Global One
Sector experts have said that bringing a strong strategic partner into Energotel will help the company to grow into a profitable business and consequently raise its value in any later state share sales. "It's natural all over the world that companies like Energotel increase their value by offering a stake to a strategic investor," said Peter Čapkovič, account manager with telecoms firm Global One.
Dag Ole Storrosten, general director at ISP Nextra, added that the presence of a strategic investor would strengthen Energotel's financial standing, and improve its organisational structure and knowledge of market demand.
Officials at the Ministry of Economy have refused to specify when and under what conditions an investor would enter the company before receiving the government's formal approval for the creation of the firm. However, Márius Hričovský, advisor to Economy Minister Ľubomír Harach, said that if offered to a strategic partner, the stake that investor gets will depend on Energotel's financial needs at the time, and that the current utility owners would play a significant role even if and when a stake is sold.
"It is likely that a stake in Energotel will be offered to a strategic partner. There are two things that we expect from an owner - financial investment and know-how. And we would like the energy utilities to maintain some kind of control in the company," Hričovský said.
However, once the firm is on the table, there are expected to be a number of parties interested in a slice. Čapkovič explained that an investor could even try to enter Energotel as soon as it is established to give it immediate support. "It certainly wouldn't take much time to find a good partner for Energotel," he said.
Potential bidders for Energotel's stake include traditional telecom operators, but also so-called 'alternative operators' - energy utilities that themselves invest into networks run by other energy utilities. "These two are the most likely candidates," Čapkovič said, adding, "energy utilities might well consider an investment, but it will depend on their [financial] targets."
It has become common for energy utilities in western Europe either to separate their telecoms infrastructure from their core activities and merge them with other energy utilities to operate telecom networks, or to merge with telecoms firms themselves and other financial and non-financial institutions.
Examples include the German gas giant Ruhrgas. It merged its telecom infrastructure with other gas companies in Germany and founded the joint venture Gasline. Italian firm SNAM has also put its telecom infrastructure into a joint venture with Albacom, British Telecom and Banca di Lavoro.
All six owners in Energotel are, except for Slovenské elektrárne, expected to be privatised this year. A consortium including Ruhrgas, SNAM and Gaz de France has shown interest in a 49% stake in SPP, another future owner of Energotel.
British Telecom, which only a few days ago plunged into the Slovak market as BT Slovakia, has strongly hinted, though, that it is not going to take a share in Energotel if offered, saying it is not their policy to invest in an existing operator's market.