Polish government still eyeing private pension funds

By bne IntelliNews July 4, 2016

More than €30bn piled up in Poland’s private pension funds (OFEs) could be used to back “important investments,” the chairman of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) told a party convention on July 2.

Poles can pay into several OFEs, and the funds an estimated 20% of the stock listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange. PiS, however, sees the state as a key player in economic development and would like to secure more means for carrying out “new, important investments, that will help build strong economic policy and support millions of Polish households,” as Jaroslaw Kaczynski told PiS members. The convention backed the party head - widely seen as Poland's de facto leader - as chairman for another three years.

Kaczynski did not detail how the government might take control of the OFE money. It has been reported for some months, however, that the government is eyeing the cash. One plan would be the consolidation of the country's 12 OFEs under the management of state-controlled insurer PZU or state bank BGK. A decision is pending after the government has completed review of the system by the end of the year.

According to Reuters, companies in which OFEs hold stakes are worried and readying share buy backs. “We treat a potential pension funds liquidation as an unlikely but very negative scenario for us. The share buyback programme is a tool for possible bad times,” Michal Zasepa, CFO at debt collector Kruk, told the newswire.

Should PiS carry out its plan, it would be the second such raid on private pensions in Poland. In 2013, the centre-right Civic Platform (PO) cabinet shifted 51% of the assets held by the funds – about PLN146bn (€35bn) – largely in the form of government bonds, to the state-run system. The move offered Warsaw a huge cut in state debt that allowed it to duck under Polish and EU limits, but it hit the equities market hard.

PiS, which won last year’s election with a programme accentuating social spending programmes, now faces a challenge to finance its promises. While the budget looks capable of covering expenses in 2016 - largely thanks to one-off income from selling telecommunication frequencies - it will come under big pressure in 2017, S&P warned on July 1.

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