Slovakia ready to take steps for reverse gas flows to Ukraine.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said the country was ready to take steps to enable reverse gas flows to Ukraine if its eastern neighbor meets financial obligations and contracts on Russian gas supplies to Slovakia.

The Slovak government office said on Wednesday Fico made the comments in a phone call with U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden.

“Prime Minister Robert Fico confirmed Slovakia is ready to take all relevant steps on the condition that the Ukrainian side meets its financial obligations and fulfils the contractual base securing supplies of natural gas from the Russian Federation to Slovakia,” the government office said in a statement.

Source Reuters

Pernod seeks buyer for Becherovka brand in Czech Republic.

Pernod Ricard is looking to sell its Becherovka liquor brand in the Czech Republic in a deal that could be worth up to $200 million, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Interested parties may include Stock Spirits Group, SPI Group and other eastern European-based interests, said the sources, who declined to be named as the matter is private.

The French wine and spirits company, the world’s second-biggest behind Diageo, is being advised by Societe Generale, said the sources. One source said non-disclosure agreements were sent out last week to possible bidders, while another said first-round bids were due this Friday.

Officials for Pernod, Stock Spirits and SPI declined to comment. Societe Generale was not immediately available.

Becherovka is made from a blend of plants and spices and is often drunk as a digestive, similar to Fernet Branca or Jagermeister.

Pernod Ricard, whose leading brands include Martell cognac, Mumm champagne and Absolut vodka, has been hurt by its exposure to China, where a government crackdown on graft-related gift giving has crimped sales of cognac, as well as weak trends in Europe.

Source Reuters

Czech property firm plans listing via Dutch-based Domus.

Netherlands-based property company Domus plans a stock market listing in Amsterdam that a source familiar with the matter said could value the firm at 490 million euros ($676 million).

Domus is owned by Dutch private equity firm BXR, which will remain a minority shareholder, the source said.

BXR is half-owned by Czech investor Zdenek Bakala. It controls RPG Byty, a property company in the Czech Republic, which will be folded into Domus.

RPG Byty holds around 44,000 residential properties and other assets in the Ostrava coal mining region in eastern Czech Republic. Bakala is, through BXR, also a shareholder in New World Resources which owns coals mines in the region.

The source said Domus was seeking to sell 250 million euros of new and pre-existing shares in an initial public offering (IPO) in Amsterdam and the sale would be run by U.S. investment bank JP Morgan.

Domus said on Wednesday it would seek to list in the second quarter of 2014, subject to market conditions. It gave no further details.

A prospectus for the sale should be released in several weeks, a BXR spokeswoman said. “The free float will be a majority of the shares,” she said.

RPG Byty said in a statement the sale would consist of both new and existing shares.

JP Morgan declined to comment.

RPG Byty’s residential properties have been at the centre of a row in the Czech Republic over whether the tenants should have the opportunity to buy their homes.

Czech politicians, including the ruling centre-left Social Democrats, have in the past called on RPG to sell the flats to the tenants. President Milos Zeman said in September last year after a trip to the region where the properties are located that he would prefer the company to transfer the apartments to public authorities or the tenants and proceeds should be used to subsidise loss-making mines in the region.

RPG Byty’s bond, maturing in 2020, jumped in price on Wednesday following news of the IPO plan. RPG Byty had a gross asset value of 894 million euros and core earnings or EBITDA of 57 million at the end of 2013.

A spokesman for Bakala was not immediately available for comment.

Source Reuters

Israeli investors look to Czech Republic.


 Gazit-Globe, Israel’s largest real estate investment company, reported on Wednesday higher quarterly profit and said Europe remains the best region for new investment. Gazit-Globe earned 238 million shekels ($68.3 million) in the fourth quarter, up from 224 million a year earlier and boosted by both organic and external growth. Rental income declined 7 percent to 1.27 billion shekels, but fell 1 percent excluding the effect of changes in exchange rates. Funds from operation rose 7 percent to 147 million shekels. Israel’s shekel appreciated sharply in 2013 versus the dollar, Canadian dollar and euro. Net operating income (NOI), which reflects the group’s core business, slipped 6 percent to 855 million shekels but was flat excluding exchange rate changes. For all of 2013, same-property NOI grew 3.4 percent excluding exchange rate changes. Gazit-Globe operates in the United States through Equity One and in Canada through First Capital Reality Inc . It is also the largest shareholder in Finland’s Citycon and together with Citigroup controls shopping mall developer Atrium European Real Estate. “What we are seeing today are opportunities in major cities in Europe,” Roni Soffer, Gazit-Globe’s president, told Reuters. “It’s more expensive to buy the same asset in North America.” Gazit-Globe, which has a market value of $2.2 billion, focuses on supermarket-anchored shopping centres in major urban areas, where growth is often double or triple the country’s overall rate. “We hope to see opportunities of major shopping centres in Europe in 2014 and 2015,” Soffer said. In particular, the company is targeting the Nordic region, the Czech Republic and Poland, he said. Still, Soffer said the company was continuing to grow in all regions while Gazit-Globe was starting to build operations in southern Brazil. It has improved its balance sheet in 2013 by selling $2 billion of lesser quality assets. Soffer added that the firm’s debt burden fell, saving the company on bond payments. Gazit-Globe will pay a quarterly dividend of 0.45 shekel per share, representing an annualised payout in 2014 of 1.80 shekels.

Its shares were down 0.4 percent in afternoon trading in Tel Aviv.

Source Reuters

Slovak central bank slashes inflation outlook.

Slovakia’s central bank slashed its inflation outlook on Tuesday after prices fell last month, predicting average inflation this year would be barely above zero.

Like some other euro zone members, Slovakia has seen inflation pressures evaporate and prices dipped 0.1 percent year-on-year in February, as measured by both domestic and EU-harmonised inflation.

In its quarterly outlook, the bank cut its full-year inflation forecast to 0.2 percent from a previous 0.6 percent.

It said that the probability of deflation, defined as a price fall lasting one year, was 20-25 percent between the second quarter of this year and the first quarter of 2015.

The central bank raised its economic growth forecast slightly for this year, by 0.1 percentage point to 2.4 percent, and kept its 2015 forecast at 3.3 percent.

Deflation would be bad for the economy as it would deter consumer spending as people waited for prices to fall further.

Slovakia joined the euro zone in 2009. Last month, it became the third country in the currency bloc to record a year-on-year price fall, adding to debate over whether the European Central Bank (ECB) needs to take additional steps to loosen monetary policy and spur inflation.

 Germany’s Bundesbank said on Tuesday that the ECB could buy loans and other assets from banks to lift the euro zone economy, marking a radical softening of its stance on the contested policy.

Jozef Makuch, Slovakia’s central bank head and an ECB governing council member, said on Tuesday that deflation risks in the euro zone had risen and a number of European Central Bank governing council members were prepared to take decisive steps if needed.

Source Reuters

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