Where do we currently stand with the privatisation of telcos in what was formerly Yugoslavia?
Late last year, the sale of a majority (58%) stake in the Serbian incumbent Telekom Srbija was abruptly called off by the country’s government on the grounds that the offers it had received were too low.
It had earlier been reported that a total of six bids had been received, with the highest being from the US investment fund Colbeck. The Slovenian incumbent Telekom Slovenije, working in partnership with Apollo, another US investment fund, was also apparently in the picture.
Interestingly, four years earlier a previous attempt to privatise Telekom Srbija had floundered, with Telekom Austria, the only interested party, having bid €1.1 billion for a 51% stake in the telco. This time, no bidder had apparently met the government’s minimum target of €1.4 billion.
Although there was and still is little public support for privatising Telekom Srbija, which is considered an important national asset, talk about its sell-off continues. Indeed, just a couple of months ago the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) announced plans to invest in the telco and spoke in favour of its privatisation.
Meanwhile in Slovenia, there was an even more high profile failed privatisation, also last year, when the sale of a 75% stake in Telekom Slovenije to the private equity group Cinven fell through at last moment.
As in the case of its Serbian counterpart, it was the second time the sale of Telekom Slovenije had been called off. In this instance, Cinven pulled the plug, citing a discouraging regulatory environment and the complexity of Slovenian politics among its reasons.
However, just like with Telekom Srbija, we cannot assume that is the end of the matter. Given the right circumstances, a sale, to what is considered the right party, will quite probably take place.
Elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia, we first learned in July last year that the government of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina planned to sell a stake in the BH Telecom, while still retaining a majority (51%) stake. More recently, it was reported this January that the government plans to sell part of its majority stakes in BH Telecom and HT Mostar, with a view to eventually privatise the two telcos.
We await to hear about further developments.