Poland reportedly seeks EBRD help to circle chemicals wagons

By bne IntelliNews April 17, 2013

bne -

Poland is reportedly looking to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) for help to ward off Russian interest in Azoty Tarnow, as the crisis sees it run out of the cash needed to finish circling the wagons around the chemicals giant.

According to unnamed sources cited by Reuters, Warsaw was set to discuss the sale of a 5% stake in Azoty Tarnow with the EBRD on April 16. The Polish treasury is reportedly looking to sell a 12% stake in the company by April 24, in order to avoid having to make a mandatory offer to shareholders. That would be a strain on the state's struggling budget.

Poland announced last year that it intended to sell off all state holdings in the chemicals sector. However, it turned that on its head in the summer when Russian fertilizer maker Acron emerged as the leading suitor for Tarnow. Warsaw also suspected that a bid from Polish rubber maker Synthos for Pulawy may be a front for eventual Russian interest, and promptly merged it into Tarnow to create a state champion.

On the one hand, Poland's resistance to Russian interests in the sector stems from the difficult historical relationship with its giant neighbour. On a more practical level, the chemicals sector - the country's largest consumer of gas - is seen by the government as a vital support in the state's drive to reduce Poland's dependence on Russian energy.

Acron managed to gather around 7% of shares on the open market last year, and claimed on April 13 that it had raised its holding to 12.9%. It also reiterated an offer of a strategic partnership with the Polish firm in raw materials like ammonia and phosphates, newswires said.

However, Warsaw is clearly still wary of inviting deeper Russian interest, despite the pressure it is under. The treasury's current 45% holding must be trimmed to below 33%, otherwise it will be required to make a mandatory offer to raise its stake to 66%.

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