Sweden began its planned sell-off of state assets Wednesday, putting an 8 percent stake in the telecom operator TeliaSonera valued at about 20 billion kronor on the auction bloc. The shares, worth about $3 billion, are available only to institutional investors, the Finance Department said in a statement, and the sale was expected to be completed by Thursday evening.
The new center-right government said after taking office last year that it planned to sell its entire 45.3 percent stake in TeliaSonera as part of a drive to privatize state assets to pay off the national debt.
In the next few years, the government will also sell holdings in five other companies, including the banking group Nordea, the stock market operator OMX and the liquor group Vin & Sprit, the maker of Absolut vodka.
‘Through this deal, we are decreasing our ownership in TeliaSonera in a responsible way,’ the financial markets minister, Mats Odell, said. ‘This way we increase the number of international, institutional and long-term owners in the company. That’s something it needs.’
The government will remain by far the largest owner in TeliaSonera, he said, adding that it was unclear when the remaining shares would be sold.
Karin Forseke, a special adviser to the government for the sell- off, said hundreds of different institutional investors would be able to make bids to buy shares. The sales price will be set after all bids are received, she said.
‘We want a broader ownership, so we expect a lot of investors to buy,’ she said.
A TeliaSonera spokesman, Ola Kallemur, said the company’s management was told of the sale Tuesday evening.
‘We have no opinion about who owns us,’ he said. ‘We have to go through with our projects and plans, regardless of ownership. It’s business as usual.’
‘I didn’t expect the sale to happen so soon, but it’s a move that’s good for the company’ because TeliaSonera will have more flexibility, said Holger Smitt, an analyst at Sydbank in Denmark. ‘Today’s sale buys the government some time because it shows they plan to gradually reduce the holding.’
Sweden’s previous Social Democratic government opened up state- owned companies for private ownership in the 1990s, but maintained a strong influence on them by keeping large holdings.
The other companies on the government’s sell list are the real estate group Vasakronan and the residential mortgage company SBAB. Those two, as well as Vin & Sprit, are not listed.
The government’s total ownership in the six companies is worth about 250 billion kronor. Odell reiterated the government’s plan to sell assets worth about 50 billion kronor a year until 2010.
The sale of a stake in TeliaSonera, the Nordic region’s biggest phone company, comes after the company had its best annual stock performance since being created from the former monopolies of Sweden and Finland in late 2002.