Sweden Begins Sell-off of State Assets

Crown Corporations, Frontier Centre, Local Government, Role of Government, Uncategorized, Worth A Look

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Sweden's government began its planned selloff of state assets today, putting an 8 percent stake in telecom operator TeliaSonera AB valued at about $3 billion on the auction bloc.

The shares are available only to institutional investors, the Finance Department said in a statement, and the sale is expected to be completed by Thursday evening.

TeliaSonera shares fell 4.1 percent to 52.50 kronor ($7.84) on the Stockholm exchange.

Sweden's 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. In the next few years, the government will also sell holdings in five other companies, including banking group Nordea AB, stock market operator OMX AB and liquor group Vin & Sprit AB, the maker of Absolut vodka.

"Through this deal, we are decreasing our ownership in TeliaSonera in a responsible way," said Financial Markets Minister Mats Odell. "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 it was unclear when remaining shares would be sold.

Karin Forseke, a special adviser to the government for the selloff, said hundreds of different institutional investors will 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.

TeliaSonera spokesman Ola Kallemur said the company's management was told of the sale on Tuesday evening.

"We have no opinion about who owns us," Kallemur said. "We have to go through with our projects and plans regardless of ownership. It's business as usual."

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 share holdings.

The other companies on the government's sell list are real estate group Vasakronan AB, and residential mortgage company SBAB. Those two, as well as Vin & Sprit, are not listed, and no timeline has been set for their sale.

The government's total ownership in the six companies is worth about 250 billion kronor ($37 billion), which will be used to pay off the national debt. Odell reiterated the government's plan to sell assets worth about 50 billion kronor ($7.5 billion) per year until 2010.