Chinese shipping and port giant China Cosco Holdings has made a binding offer for a majority stake in the long-delayed privatisation of Greece’s main port of Piraeus, a move that is expected to earn cash-strapped Athens hundreds of millions of euros and turn the Mediterranean port into a logistics hub for Chinese exports to Europe.
The Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, which handles state asset sales, didn’t reveal the valueof the bid, but gave Cosco, the sole bidder, a week to make a better offer.
Two other short-listed investors — APM Terminals, owned by Danish shipping conglomerate AP Moller-Maersk, and Philippines-based port operator International Container Terminal Services — didn’t submit binding bids. “After careful review, we concluded that (Piraeus) is not an attractive business for us,” said Tom Boyd, a spokesman for APM Terminals.
People familiar with the transaction said Cosco’s bid for a 67 per cent stake in the port was around €700 million (nearly $1 billion) including about €350m in infrastructure investments over five years. The original offer to investors was a 67.7 per cent stake.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Cosco was the favourite to win the concession given its strong ties with Greece’s government and the fact that it already operates two container terminals in Piraeus under a 35-year concession it acquired in 2009.
Piraeus, a few kilometres south of the Greek capital, is the de facto home of the country’s giant shipping industry and is one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean. Cosco already uses Pireaus as a transhipment hub for Asian exports to Europe arriving on container vessels from China, given its proximity to the Suez Canal.
Cosco executives and other Chinese officials have said they want to develop the port into a logistics centre that will move goods, mostly via rail, to Eastern Europe.
“It’sgood news because it strengthens the investment climate in Greece at a difficult time and could generate more investments in rail infrastructure and other ports,” said George Xiradakis, an Athens-based marine-business consultant and an adviser of China Development Bank.
News of Cosco’s bid came on the day that another foreign investor, Vancouver, British Columbia-based Eldorado Gold Corp., said it would suspend one of the four mining operations in northern Greece that it acquired starting in 2008. Eldorado accused the government of long licensing delays, a criticism Greece has rejected. Greece’s Syriza leftist government, which first won power in January 2015 and was re-elected in September, initially opposed privatisation to which the previous conservative administration had agreed. It rolled back all potential deals, and no sale proceeds came in 2015 despite an agreement with the country’s creditors that €2.8bn worth of state asset sales would be completed.
The government had pushed the port’s privatisation back for a year, upsetting potential investors and the country’s international creditors. The creditors had made the selling of state assets a condition for a multi-billion-euro bailout package to keep Greece from defaulting on its debt. Stergios Pitsiorlas, head of the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, told the WSJ in December that the privatisation target for 2016 is set at €3.5bn but added that €2.5bn is more realistic.
The second-biggest Greek port, in the northern city of Thessaloniki, will be privatised next year, according to the development fund’s schedule. Both APM Terminals and ICTS are in the running for that port, along with Germany’s Deutsche Invest Equity Partners GmbH and Japan’s Mitsui & Co.
Binding bids are expected in April. Sources said APM Terminals is the frontrunner to win that concession.
Source: AFR, Tha Wall Street Journal