Business Briefs

Slovalco to invest $93.5 million in production
USX looks for higher stake in steel firm VSŽ
Finance Ministry expecting VÚB, IRB sales in June
Smer accepts offer of SPP sale commission seat

Slovalco to invest $93.5 million in production

Žiar nad Hronom aluminum smelter Slovalco will invest $93.5 million to expand production by the end of 2003, Milan Veselý, Slovalco's administrative and technology director, said April 10.
The company, which was recently acquired jointly by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Norwegian aluminium firm Hydro Aluminium, said that beginning in 2004, liquid aluminium production could increase by 46,500 tons from the current annual total of 109,200 tons.
Based on last year's preliminary results, Slovalco reported an output of 12.2 billion crowns ($244 million), with exports of 10.5 billion crowns. The firm recorded a pretax profit of 1.6 billion crowns, while net profits were 1.03 billion crowns.

USX looks for higher stake in steel firm VSŽ

USX Corporation, the parent company of steel maker US Steel Košice, wants to buy the remaining shares of VSŽ, as the US firm looks to increase co-operation with the company. Following the US firm's acquisition of VSŽ's core steel-making operations last year, the remaining companies have taken various contracts with US Steel.
US Steel Košice President John H. Goodish confirmed that USX is carrying out due diligence in VSŽ, and will set the price of VSŽ shares on the basis of its results. Under its current plans, it would buy a 51% stake in VSŽ held by the state and then move to acquire all VSŽ shares. USX Corporation holds a 25% share in VSŽ.

Finance Ministry expecting VÚB, IRB sales in June

The Finance Ministry said April 9 that potential investors are expected to bid for majority stakes in Slovakia's two remaining state-controlled banks - Všeobecná úverová banka (VÚB) and Investičná a rozvojová banka (IRB) - by June.
The investors, France's Societe Generale and Italy's BCI for Všeobecná, and Hungarian bank OTP for IRB, are currently carrying out due diligence at the two banks and are expected to finish by the end of this month, with the bids coming four weeks later.
A 67% stake is on offer in VÚB, the state having earlier this year sold 25% to the International Finance Corporation and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). The government is also hoping to sell a 70% stake in IRB.
The announcement came just days after the closing of the sale of an 87% stake in the country's largest bank, Slovenská sporiteľňa, to Austria's Erste Bank for 18 billion crowns.

Smer accepts offer of SPP sale commission seat

Non-parliamentary Smer party leader Robert Fico announced April 8 that his party had accepted an offer from Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda to sit on the working commission for the privatisation of state monopoly gas distribution utility Slovenský plynárenský priemysel (SPP).
The prime minister's move came after Fico's criticism of the government's proposed privatisation plan for the gas giant. Under the government proposal, 49% of the firm is to be sold off, with a possibility that 15% of that will be placed on the stock market - a move Fico has supported.
However, many analysts have said that to maximise the price for the stake to be privatised, the government should sell the stake in its entirety to one single investor, fearing that interest in a smaller stake would be low. They have warned that the Smer leader's presence on the committee may be detrimental to the speed of the sale.
Fico told press that the decision on whether he or another member of Smer would represent the party on the commission has not yet been made.
The market value of SPP has been estimated at between $6 and $8 billion.

Compiled by Ed Holt from SITA and TASR

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