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New board takes helm of troubled shipper

WITH THE financial circus around the privatisation of Slovakia's port and shipping authority SPaP apparently settled, the company has installed a new supervisory board and board of directors and is looking ahead to restructuring the troubled shipper.
Among the shareholders represented on the boards, installed in mid-October, are British shipping company Budamar Transport (BDL), the Slovak municipalities of Bratislava and Komárno and the Istrokapitál financial group.
"The new shareholder structure reflects the results of negotiations between Istrokapitál and potential partners, who after the general meeting acquired positions in the management of the company," said SPaP officials in a statement.

WITH THE financial circus around the privatisation of Slovakia's port and shipping authority SPaP apparently settled, the company has installed a new supervisory board and board of directors and is looking ahead to restructuring the troubled shipper.

Among the shareholders represented on the boards, installed in mid-October, are British shipping company Budamar Transport (BDL), the Slovak municipalities of Bratislava and Komárno and the Istrokapitál financial group.

"The new shareholder structure reflects the results of negotiations between Istrokapitál and potential partners, who after the general meeting acquired positions in the management of the company," said SPaP officials in a statement.

The changed management structure should bring to an end a period of uncertainty for the company dating from what observers called its non-transparent sell-off in April to the only bidder - the little-known Dunajservis group backed by corporate raiders Penta.

Although Dunajservis picked up the 89 per cent stake in SPaP from the FNM privatisation agency for Sk150 ($3.50) per share, it soon transferred the shares to the IFC company, a member of Istrokapitál, in a repo deal.

Over the summer, stock trades on the Bratislava exchange involving IFC, the RIF investment fund, Focus Finance - another Istrokapitál company - and other investors saw share prices rise from Sk150 per share to over Sk800 ($18.50) per share.

When Budamar, itself a shareholder in Dunajservis, bought a 22.5 per cent stake in SPaP in late September, the share price had reached Sk838 per share.

While Penta, Istrokapitál and fellow financial buccaneers J&T were all involved in the summer share trading, representatives of a consortium of the three groups say they have agreed on redistributing control in joint projects, leaving Istrokapitál with an almost 46 per cent stake in SPaP.

Istrokapiál officials have said that SPaP remains a long-term investment for the group and that they would seek a majority share.

The new head of SPaP, Oldřich Struminský, acknowledged that 2002 had not been a good year for the shipper, but that with ownership issues settled, paths had been opened for investment and expansion.

"The initial profit plan [for 2002] was not founded on a realistic study," said Struminský, pointing out that the company may see losses of Sk250,000 ($5,800) for 2002, following 2001 profits of Sk43 million ($1 million).

"We have decided to create a full rectification of all of our matured claims prior to 2000," he continued, adding that the company would seek a return to black numbers by using capacity rather than selling off parts of the company, as had been Penta's stated aim.

"Bratislava port has a much greater capacity than it is using at the moment. We will try to transport everything that anyone offers us," said Ján Tušim, who was again appointed to head the SPaP board of directors.

"The port has a large area for working with shipping containers, and we want containers to return to Slovakia," he continued.

Struminský, formerly the financial director in charge of cleaning up Czech metallurgical companies Třinecké železiarne and Nová huta, remains positive that SPaP can soon return to profitability.

"Negotiations are in full flow. We are working out contracts on larger transport volumes of loose materials, coal and mineral ores.

"For 2003, we are planning 25 to 30 per cent growth in operating revenues, along with a reduction in expenses of five per cent," said Struminský.

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