April 3, 2019 / 11:41 AM / 18 days ago

Sberbank says "committed" to Croatia's former Agrokor group

ZAGREB, April 3 (Reuters) - Russia’s Sberbank said on Wednesday it was committed to improving the performance of Croatian food group Fortenova following reports that it is already in talks to sell its newly acquired stake.

Agrokor, the largest firm in the Balkans with 52,000 staff, was put under state-run administration after it was consumed by debts built up during an ambitious expansion drive. .

On April 1 Agrokor changed its name to Fortenova Grupa and Sberbank, formerly the biggest creditor of Agrokor, is now the biggest single shareholder with a 39.2 percent stake.

“Sberbank is very committed to business here in mid-term. Our goal is to increase the value of the company together with other shareholders,” Maxim Poletaev, head of Fortenova’s management board and representative of the Russian bank, told reporters.

Sberbank said it plans to work on increasing the value of the group, which it sees achievable in the next two years, but did not give any details.

In January, another senior Sberbank official said that the bank had started to receive interest from potential buyers for its stake.

Also, in February local daily Jutarnji List reported that a U.S. investment fund was investigating the possibility of entering the ownership structure.

A settlement deal was reached last summer among creditors of Agrokor which included a debt-for-equity swap and some loan write-offs.

Bondholders own 25 percent, local Croatian banks 15.3 percent and Russia’s second largest bank VTB holds a 7.5 percent stake in Fortenova.

Poletaev said that, together with boosting profitability, a key immediate task is to refinance an expensive 1.1 billion euros ($1.24 billion) loan that was taken out to keep the company afloat during a two year restructuring process.

“It’s urgent for us to refinance that loan and we hope to achieve that goal by mid-summer,” Poletaev said.

$1 = 0.8893 euros Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle

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