January 29, 2009 / 2:57 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 2-Croatia, MOL to sign new deal on INA

(Adds analyst comment)

By Igor Ilic

ZAGREB, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Croatia and Hungary’s MOL (MOLB.BU) will sign a new shareholders agreement on jointly owned oil concern INA INA.ZA, giving more management rights to MOL as the largest stakeholder.

Under the new agreement, INA’s management board will have six members — three from Croatia and three from MOL — with MOL appointing the chief executive, Croatian state news agency Hina said.

MOL owns 47.15 percent of INA after buying a 22.15 percent stake in a public tender last September, while Croatia owns 44 percent. Trade in MOL shares in Budapest was suspended at the company’s request on Thursday.

The deal extends for two more years a lock-up period during which MOL will not be able to sell its stake in INA. The Zagreb government will also have a pre-emptive right to buy back its stake from MOL, should MOL itself become the target of a hostile takeover, Hina said.

The economy ministry said in a brief statement, released after a cabinet session on Thursday, the new agreement will be signed on Friday in Zagreb by Deputy Prime Minister Damir Polancec and MOL’s CEO Zsolt Hernady.

Under the agreement, the government will buy the Okoli gas storage facility from INA and outsource INA’s loss-making gas business by setting up a new state-owned company to control gas supply and distribution.

“The (state-owned) gas pipeline operator Plinacro will pay 514 million kuna ($91.34 million) for the Okoli gas storage facility and the funds will be secured through a loan guaranteed by the government,” state radio said.

Okoli, 30 miles east of Zagreb, has a capacity of some 550 million cubic metres of gas. It helped Croatia maintain regular gas supply to non-industry consumers during the recent gas crisis sparked by the Russia/Ukraine row.

“The price for Okoli will help INA’s stretched liquidity situation in the short term. But if there is no capital increase in INA, refinery investments will be delayed,” said Peter Tordai, an analyst at KBC Securities.

INA is now in the process of modernising its two dated refineries which it hopes to complete by 2011.

The government also said it wanted to keep its 44 percent stake in INA for now, thus confirming its intention to abandon plans for a share swap with MOL it had tentatively considered last year, before the global crisis.

The government said it would found a new state-owned company that would be in charge of natural gas supply and distribution.

INA’s gas business has been making losses due to the government’s cap on prices. ($1=5.627 Croatian Kuna) (Reporting by Igor Ilic; Additional reporting by Krisztina Than in Budapest, Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Jon Loades-Carter)

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