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Govt rekindles privatisation agenda with $2.5 bln ONGC share sale

Source : REUTERS
Last Updated: Wed, Feb 29, 2012 06:40 hrs
An engineer of ONGC works inside the Kalol oil field in Gujarat

The government is set to raise at least $2.5 billion by selling a 5 percent stake in Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) on Thursday, aiming to patch up its widening fiscal deficit and revive its stalled privatisation agenda.

The long-delayed ONGC sale, set to be the biggest equity offering in India this year, will be done via an auction on the stock exchange, the first to use this newly approved sales method which avoids expensive roadshows and saves time.

Shares in ONGC, the country's largest oil and gas producer and second-largest listed firm in India by market value, rose as much as 4.8 percent on Wednesday, outpacing the wider market, amid expectations that the offer would meet strong demand.

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"There is no doubt that the issue will be fully subscribed considering there are state-run financial institutions and others who will bid," said R.K. Gupta, managing director at Taurus Mutual Fund.

"And a strong response to this issue opens the door for more government divestment programmes," he added.

The floor price for the company's share auction has been set at 290 rupees, the company said in a notice to stock exchanges, slightly higher than its Tuesday closing price of 283.40 rupees.

On Wednesday, the stock traded at 297.50 rupees at 0558 GMT.

The offer is likely to see strong demand from both overseas and Indian investors, sources with knowledge of the situation said.

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India's stalled divestment programme also calls for reduced holdings in other state-run firms such as Bharat Heavy Electricals and Steel Authority of India

New Delhi is widely expected to miss its deficit target of 4.6 percent of GDP for the current fiscal year ending March, partly due to its inability to meet the budget target for more than $8.1 billion in state-company share sales.

So far this fiscal year, the government has only raised about $250 million.

The government had earlier planned to sell ONGC shares through a public offer but that plan was scrapped last October after a tepid response from investors amid weak equity markets.

India's stock market posted its first annual fall in three years in 2011, losing nearly 25 percent. Shares in ONGC fell 20 percent in the same period.

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But the stock market has rebounded in 2012 and the BSE Sensex has climbed nearly 15 percent, with foreign funds scooping up beaten shares worth more than $7 billion.

The Securities & Exchange Board of India said last month that it would allow shareholders of the country's top 100 companies by market value to raise funds by auctioning their stakes through stock exchanges.

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The ONGC share sale comes amid news the company and state-run GAIL India may join a bidding war for Cove Energy , becoming the second Asian state-run group seeking to trump Shell's $1.6 billion offer.

Little if any of the proceeds are expected to flow back to ONGC and help with any bid for Cove, given the government's clear objective is to pay down its own deficit.

The government will sell about 428 million of its ONGC shares, cutting its stake in the firm, which the market values at more than $49 billion, to 69.1 percent from about 74 percent.

The share auction will be launched on Thursday at 9:15 a.m. (0345 GMT) and will close at 3:30 p.m., the ONGC statement said.

Bankers said investors would be able to participate in the auction in the same way as a traditional secondary share offer, but the government would save time and money.

Citigroup , Bank of America Merrill Lynch , HSBC , Morgan Stanley , Nomura <8604.T> and India's JM Financial are the banks on the deal, who will mainly provide broking services to the auction.


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