Energa's Warsaw debut poses questions for Polish equities push

By bne IntelliNews December 12, 2013

bne -

The shares of Polish Energa sagged alarmingly on December 11 as they made their debut on the Warsaw Stock Exchange following an IPO that proved more of a struggle than hoped. However, the apparent slowdown of the market doesn't appear to be putting off issuers looking to vault through the shortening window of opportunity to raise cash.

Shares in Poland's fourth largest utility slumped by as much as 10% in heavy early morning trade. Although they recovered somewhat through the day, they finished their first day of trading at PLN16.09 - 5.35% below the IPO price of PLN17. Analysts suggested to PAP that the swift slump as Energa made its debut was due to a rush by employees to sell their allocations.

However, the warning signs were there through the IPO, which by raising PLN2.4bn for a 34.2% stake was Central Europe's largest IPO this year, and the biggest in Warsaw since the PLN5.37bn float of coal miner JSW in July 2011.

The offer was launched with high hopes in the wake of the hugely successful IPO of PKP's cargo unit, and targeted revenue of up to PLN2.8bn originally, but by December 3 the treasury had been forced below the mid-point of its initial pricing guide of PLN15-20. It also flirted with reducing the volume of shares on the table to 31%. That was mostly due, it seems, to indifference from institutional investors, with the number of shares available to retail investors expanded from 7m to 24m.

The reasons for that lack of appetite by professional investors appears manifold. On the one hand, Energa's investment profile has several questions over it. The company joins several other state-controlled utilities on the WSE, all of which are now under pressure not only from a weak power market, but also the government, which continues to push for massive investment into new capacity, as well as shale gas. Energa is also heavily exposed to renewable energy, and Warsaw has spent two years arguing with the industry over withdrawing much of the state support it has been offering.

At the same time, the case for Polish equities per se is facing several challenges. While the country looks set to see GDP growth push above 2% in 2014, the stock market is under the shadow of the government pension grab that has just been passed in parliament. The move threatens the private pension funds that currently constitute a huge chunk of buyers on the WSE.

Analysts are split on the short term effects. East Capital suggested recently that the move is yet to be fully priced in by the market. Deutsche Bank, on the other hand, suggests it "will have a more visible impact over the longer term, but not necessarily in 2014, as both pension fund members and managers weigh up what policy to adopt towards the domestic equity market." However, that uncertainty itself is likely enough to put off some.

Meanwhile, those that are still keen have seen their options expand rapidly in recent weeks as issuers have leapt to catch the wave. In the wake of PKP Cargo, train maker Newag and real estate developer Capital Park have listed, while several other smaller issuers have announced plans for imminent floats, including Slovenia's well known appliance maker Gorenje.

PKP itself expanded the list of companies looking to raise equity as Energa shares were struggling. The national rail operator announced that it is set to take another stab at offloading non-core asset TKT Telekom, with a sale in 2014 of the asset which it failed to find a buyer for in 2012 to follow a restructuring. However, PKP CEO Jakub Karnowski told Dziennik Gazeta Prawna the company will most likely be sold to a strategic investor, rather than test the pueblo market.

The wider context for Energa's struggle is that time is marching onwards, and the window of opportunity for equity issuers that opened in October may now be starting to close. Warsaw had spent months waiting on the sidelines to get the Energa IPO away, but it was the US Fed's announcement in September of a delay to tapering of its huge quantitive easing programme that tripped for the rush to market across CEE, with Russia especially seeing several issues.

PKP Cargo's PLN1.42bn IPO kicked things off in Poland. When the state-controlled rail company's shares then jumped 18% as they made their debut on the WSE on October 30 things got serious. Yet the US central bank will act sooner or later. Early 2014 is the current bet, and that casts uncertainty over emerging market assets of all classes.

Despite all these potential setbacks for Polish equities, the WSE - naturally - tried to remain bullish, insisting that the Energa IPO will only help accelerate listing activity on the bourse. "The presence of another key company of the Polish economy on Warsaw Stock Exchange demonstrates the growing importance of the capital market to the country's economy," WSE head Adam Maciejewski claimed in a statement. "I am positive that the coming year will be as successful for the market and that more private companies will be floated on the exchange, helping us to continue building a capital hub in Warsaw. This is a real challenge for all entities responsible for the development of the market."

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