Energeticky a Prumyslovy Holding (EPH) will reorganise its Central European infrastructure assets under a single holding company, and could look to sell - or even list - the business, the Czech-based energy group announced on October 22.
EP Infrastructure (EPIF) will hold controlling interests in a number of businesses operating in gas, heat and power. That includes gas transmission operator SPP, which operates the Slovak section of the main overland route carrying Russian gas exports to Europe. "The company is expected to become the most important business unit of EPH," the Czech holding said in a statement.
Further than that, EPH suggested it could be ready to sell a minority stake in EPIF, and even that it could seek an IPO. “Further announcements will be made in due course in the event EPH decides to proceed with any transaction,” the statement continues.
The suggestion that EPH could sell a stake in EPIF suggests, as has long been speculated, that the holding may be struggling with debt. It has been on a buying spree over the past few years, borrowing heavily to snap up assets to turn itself into a regional heavyweight.
Over the past year, the company began a new drive to the west. It made several acquisitions to expand outside its core market in Central Europe. It bought a coal-fired plant in the UK and wrapped up a deal to buy E.ON’s coal and gas assets in Italy. The strategy to buy up coal-based assets is at odds with most major Western energy groups.
EPH is also the preferred bidder to team up with the Slovak government to buy Enel out of Slovenske Elektrarne. It denied reports on October 22 that it has reached a basic agreement with the Italian utility. The company has also said it is looking to buy a huge portfolio of brown coal assets in Germany, as well as planning a bid for Czech oil refiner and fuels group Unipetrol.
However, a public listing could be a stretch for both buyers and sellers. Owned by oligarchs from closely-held Slovak financial group J&T, EPH is unlikely to be comfortable with the scrutiny involved.
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