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WSE Moves Slowly to Privatization

Over the last year, the WSE has had plans to privatize and, at the same time, begin co-operation talks with European exchanges, such as the London Stock Exchange (LSE), in the hope of integrating products and services. But the Treasury Ministry has kept mum about when WSE executives can begin seeking a privatization advisor - a piece of information that would be a veritable green light for the bourse to begin internationalizing its operations.

"The next step is that we need to decide on a privatization advisor," says Piotr Shelia, WSE vice president. "We are waiting to hear from the Treasury Ministry about opening the process of privatization."

But, Shelia rationalizes, the government has put the interests of the exchange on the back burner, owing to events such as the resignation of Prime Minister Leszek Miller last month. "The situation is not good for these decisions." He doesn't expect the Ministry to be forthcoming anytime soon, saying that he understands that privatization is politically difficult to decide on. But, he adds, "there is never a good time for such decisions."

In that milieu, the government's usual foot-dragging policy on privatizations - whether or not it will change under a new cabinet - would put on hold the WSE's much-lauded policy of joining forces with other exchanges to stay competitive when the country joins the EU.

Shelia points out that once he gets the green light from the Treasury Ministry, the WSE would begin courting the LSE, Euronext and Deutsche Bourse. He said he would seek investments from the three European exchanges as well as technology sharing and outsourcing agreements.

Shelia is still eager to pursue the international strategy, even though last week, the WSE, in a consortium with Euronext, lost out to Scandinavia's OMHEX in a bid to buy a 54.5 percent in the Lithuanian stock exchange (NSE). But any move toward internationalization is welcome news for the exchange, according to analysts.

Once the country enters the EU there has been debate as to whether the WSE would be able to survive, given the lifting of restrictions on Poles who want to invest abroad.

(WBJ 05.iv.04)

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