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Mol ready to welcome allies but not OMV

Hungarian energy group Mol Nyrt is open to partnerships with bigger rivals, CEO Zsolt Hernádi said in an interview.

“If I had to look for a partner, I would ask Shell, BP or Gazprom, but not OMV,” he told FT Deutschland, the Financial Times’ sister paper, in an interview. “But at the moment we don’t necessarily need a partner,” he added. Mol is being courted by Austrian rival OMV, but has fiercely rejected the approach. In the interview, Hernádi again stressed that position: “From our side, we have ended this whole OMV theatre. We have other things to do. We are not actors.”
OMV, which is partly state-owned, has said it was looking for a merger agreeable to both sides. Wolfgang Ruttensdorfer, OMV’s CEO, has ruled out a hostile takeover.

Last week, OMV said its holding in Mol had risen to 18.9%, with Ruttensdorfer stressing he would reserve the right to continue buying shares. But Hernádi said OMV would seize any opportunity for a hostile takeover. But because Mol restricts voting rights for shareholders to 10%, it is protected against takeover attempts, he added. “Our share buyback is also functioning as a protection.” Mol holds 8% of its own shares, while Hungarian banks OTP and MFB own 10% each, enabling the company and the banks to potentially prevent a takeover at a general meeting. There were, however, “no agreements on how the banks would have to act in
such a situation”, Hernádi said. Mol’s next general meeting is scheduled for April 2008. Mol’s resistance to OMV was due largely to the Austrian company’s shareholder structure, Hernádi said. “The Hungarian government and our supervisory board do not want another government to have influence on Mol.”

Mol was fully privatized in 2006 and with an annual turnover of €11.8 billion ($15.9 billion), is Central Europe’s biggest independent company. Hernádi said he doubted the competition authorities would approve a merger with OMV unless Mol sold at least one of its refineries, as well as hundreds of petrol stations. Outside Central Europe, Hernádi said Russia was attractive. “We are currently talking to several Russian companies about co-operation with refineries and in the gas business.” A partnership between Gazprom and Mol could be attractive for the Russian state-controlled monopoly, Hernádi said, because “the Russians could extend their supply chain”. Besides Russia, Mol is looking at acquisitions in Croatia and Serbia.

(BBJ 20.viii.07)

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