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Clock ticking on BPCL stake sale

Officials say further extensions would signal wrong message
Deadline for EoIs is mid-November, to be followed by due diligence and  financial bids.

R. Suryamurthy   |   New Delhi   |   Published 19.10.20, 12:59 AM

The Centre is unwilling to extend the deadline for the submission of expressions of interest for state-owned refiner BPCL as the Modi-government  struggles to meet its selloff target for the fiscal. 

The government plans to sell its entire 52.98 per cent stake in BPCL and has extended the deadline four times, with the present one being November 16. 

The BPCL share price on Friday at Rs 339.95 on the BSE is far below its 52-week high of Rs 549.70, and a stake sale of 53 per cent will fetch the government around Rs 40,000 crore.

The selloff target for the fiscal is Rs 2.10 lakh crore.

Senior finance ministry officials said “we expect the bidders to be ready this time. We hope we need not extend the deadline further, otherwise it sends a wrong message”.

Global and domestic players had shown interest in the stake sale of BPCL during the road shows. However, reports suggest energy majors such as Saudi Aramco, Russia’s Rosneft may not bid because of lower prices and fragile demand recovery.

“The competition will be a key factor for BPCL to help the government get a better price,” the officials said.

Analysts said the government’s expectations of a hefty premium to the current market price may be misplaced and the quick privatisation of the PSU may prove to be challenging.

“We maintain neutral on the stock, with the slim possibility of divestment in the current circumstances,” Motilal Oswal said in a research report.

Fitch Rating said “the government may require OMCs (oil marketing companies) to cut marketing margins to keep retail fuel prices affordable if crude oil prices continue to rise.

However, state interference in fuel prices, if any, will have a bearing on its plans to divest BPCL, which we believe will limit any drastic steps.”

Fitch had also said the potential privatisation of BPCL is an “event risk” as there is little information about bidders and potential transaction structure.  

“We all will appreciate looking into the net worth and looking into the size. The government is trading very cautiously on how to off load the stake through a proper process,” oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan has said.

After the EoIs, the government will open a data center for the interested bidders to do due diligence of the books of the company and its operations after which financial bids will be called. 

The financial bids will have to be evaluated and approved by the cabinet and the transaction will close once the payment is made, sources said. The government has barred PSUs from the bidding.

The government has proposed a strategic disinvestment of its entire shareholding in BPCL — comprising 114.91 crore equity shares, or 52.98 per cent of  share capital — along with the transfer of management.

BPCL will not sell its 61.65 per cent stake in Numaligarh Refinery to the strategic buyer. The Numaligarh stake will be sold to a state-owned oil and gas firm.

The Centre has allowed prospective bidders with a minimum net worth of $10 billion to present their bids. A maximum of four members are permitted in a consortium, with the lead member holding 40 per cent. Other members of the consortium must have a net worth of $1 billion. The EoI allows changes in the consortium within 45 days, though the lead member cannot be changed.

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