Govt to support any option to help overhaul Mercator
Počivalšek said on several occasions that the government was seeking a stable long-term owner for Mercator, which would allow the company to develop.
Mercator, one of Slovenia's largest employers, needs a strong partner to address its "three key problems," Počivalšek said in a phone interview with Bloomberg on Tuesday. It needs to lower its debt-to-earnings ratio, become more competitive in a market dominated by discounters, and improve its logistics, according to Počivalšek.
Mercator is owned by the Croatian government-controlled Agrokor, but a change in ownership is possible based on an agreement and a sales contract. There is an "open battle for Mercator ownership" in certain debt collection procedures led by a major foreign bank, the minister told the on-line issue of the newspaper Večer in a reference to the Russian Sberbank.
Mercator will get a new owner in the coming months. If Agrokor creditors back the restructuring plan to avoid its bankruptcy, the new owner will be the new Agrokor that is to be set up on the ruins of the current conglomerate.
As part of preparations for an ownership change, Mercator is now seeking banks' consent to the ownership change.
Banks can block a change in Mercator's ownership under an agreement the retailer made with banks in 2014 after being taken over by Agrokor. But banks are reportedly expected to have no objections.
The consent is also important for Agrokor, as Mercator is expected to play a crucial role in the structuring of the new Agrokor in terms of revenue and money flow.
According to information obtained by web portal Siol.net, Agrokor is planning on selling the claims of any bank creditors that would not give consent to the ownership change to one of the international risk capital funds.
Unofficial information indicate that the fund is managed by US investment firm Elliott Management Corporation, which manages US$ 34bn. Its owner Paul Singer, known for his practice of purchasing distressed debt from companies and sovereign states and pursuing full payment through the courts.
It is not clear which bank sold its claims to the fund and at what price, Siol says, pointing to reports at the end of last year that the fund Quantum managed by billionaire George Soros was interested in the claims.
Reportedly, he offered EUR 150m for the entire package of claims, which is less than a quarter of their nominal value. Mercator's core company owes EUR 650m to bank creditors.