The Slovenia Times

Parliamentary committee okays bill facilitating NLB privatization


Finance Minister Mateja Vraničar Erman described the bill, which is being fast-tracked in the face of European Commission pressure to comply with the privatisation pledge made during the EUR 1.55bn bailout in 2013, as "one of the measures" for resolving the issue of Yugoslav-era foreign currency deposits.

She said that other procedures related to shielding NLB from claims in Croatia were under way as well, but could not be discussed publicly due to national interests.

"There is no more time to debate whether the bank needs to be privatised or not, privatisation is inevitable," the minister said.

She argued the point was to be in control of the process as opposed to taking a route that would lower the bank's price.

While contingent liabilities in Croatia potentially run into hundreds of millions of euros and have been seen as a major drag on the NLB price - the risks involved were Slovenia's main argument for postponing the sale - Vraničar Erman also highlighted the compensation measures related to the delay.

These are limiting the NLB's operations and are thus lowering its price, she argued in the discussion on the bill that tasks the state with covering any of the costs incurred by NLB over the old deposits in Croatia.

The bill was welcomed by most parties, including the Democrats (SDS) as the now largest party in parliament. The SDS's Zvonko Černač however argued the support "does not mean we accept responsibility for the one-year delay" in the bill's adoption.

Also excited about the sale is the fellow centre-right New Slovenia (NSi), whose Ljudmila Novak argued the state-owned bank "has only been giving us grey hair".

The strongest opposition came from the Left, which insisted Slovenia should follow "the Portuguese scenario" and negotiate a way out of selling what is a systemic bank.

The National Party (SNS) is against the sale as well, while reservations were also expressed by Robert Polnar of the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) who argued that "this haste" generates doubts and that Slovenia will get less than it invested into the bank.

Slovenia, which has not received clearance from the European Central Bank to claim EUR 270.6m in the NLB's distributable profit, plans to sell at least half the bank in an initial public offering (IPO) by the end of this year and the rest in 2019, while retaining a controlling share.

In last year's IPO, which was abandoned by the state, the price range for a NLB share was 55 to 71 euros, but the bank was still exposed to the risks related to the Croatia deposits and lawsuits.

"I expect it will be possible to sell the bank under market conditions," Vraničar Erman told the STA today, while not wishing to speculate on the price.

She argued that this was not about her "wanting at all cost to no longer have a fully state-owned bank", but about "sincerely believing that getting the privatisation done is the only way for the bank to start breathing fully and performing the role it was established to perform - both in relation to the citizens and the economy".


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