Forced Sale? Deutsche Telekom's Greek Tragedy
In May 2008, when Germany's Deutsche Telekom bought 30 percent of Greece's telecommunication group OTE for almost 4 billion euros ($5.6 billion), life in the euro zone was good. Lehman Brothershadn't collapsed yet and most of Europe was still under the illusion that it would skirt the crisis that had hit the US.
At the time, Greece negotiated a put option to sell a 10 percent stake in OTE to Deutsche Telekom for an estimated 400 million euros in current market prices. The company was an attractive target as it had operations in Greece and in south-east Europe, which was growing rapidly.
Now the thought that the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Union might make Greece exercise this put option is worrying Deutsche Telekom.
“That is a total catastrophe”, a senior Deutsche Telekom manager has told the Financial Times Deutschland. OTE's net profit fell by 54 percent in the first quarter as it cut jobs after losing customers in its recession-hit Greek home market. Since January 2000, OTE's shares fell by almost 50 percent.
The Greek government announced Tuesday that it is planning to sell a 16 percent stake in OTE in the second quarter of this year. Trade unions though have already announced they will protest against any further stake reduction by the Greek state.
Deutsche Telekom shares were down 0.8 percent Tuesday morning against a general positive market trend. The state-owned bank KfW holds 17 percent in Deutsche Telekom and the German government holds a 14.9 percent.
The Deutsche Telekom management board and the supervisory board plan to fly to Greece at the end of May in order to get detailed information about developments at OTE on the ground, according to the Financial Times Deutschland report. The telecom giant is said to try to press Greece's government to postpone the put option, according to people close to the company.
The Greek Finance Ministry is optimistic regarding the sale, judging by statements made in public. Back in April, Finance Ministry officials had told Reuters that "Deutsche Telekom is always interested”.
The German company is tight-lipped when it comes to its enthusiasm for the OTE stake.
"We are just sticking to the shareholder agreement from 2008 and if the Greek state will exercise its put option, we will fulfill our contractual obligations,” Deutsche Telekom's spokesperson Anna Bischof told CNBC.
Asked whether they would sign such an agreement again, she did not want to comment.