Ljubljana, 18 February (STA) – The call for non-binding offers for 53.18% in retailer Mercator will remain open at least until the end of the week, although the original deadline for non-binding offers ends on Monday, the STA learned from sources close to Pivovarna Laško group, Mercator’s largest owner.

The beverage maker says it does not know how many bids have been received by London financial group ING, which is overseeing the sale. They do however expect several bids by strategic and institutional investors.

The source close to Pivovarna Laško group, which includes several Mercator owners, also told the STA that the next step will be a call for binding bids. As many as twelve Mercator owners are taking part in the sale.

The Slovenian media speculated on Monday about the outcome of the call for bids. Business daily Finance said that five bids could be expected, adding that the highest bid was again to come from Croatian Agrokor, a group that owns a rival retailer in Croatia and has tried to buy Mercator before.

The paper also says that the highest bid for Mercator was at around EUR 125 a share, which is close to its stock market value. Mercator closed at EUR 124.60 at the Ljubljana Stock Exchange today. Last year Agrokor offered EUR 221 a share for Mercator.

The daily Dnevnik meanwhile noted that the response from investors had been anything but encouraging. The presentations held by the Mercator management in London last week were attended by representatives of eight financial investors and of Agrokor.

Dnevnik also said that financial investors could pay immediately, while Agrokor would have to find funds first. Agrokor is allegedly aware that Mercator in its entirety would cost at least EUR 550m or EUR 150 a share, Dnevnik says, adding that the owners were not willing to sell for less.

Dnevnik moreover says that Agrokor owner Ivica Todorović would first have to find an investor to inject more than EUR 100m into the company, which would take a while due to the complexity of the group and protracted evaluation processes.

Amalyst Miloš Ryba meanwhile believes it would the best for Mercator to strategically team up with Agrokor as the Balkans is undergoing market consolidation and big retail chains like Delhaize and Schwartz will flood the region.

He noted that Mercator’s sales in its most important markets dropped in 2012: by 2.6% in Slovenia and 7.7% in Croatia. The retailer is also dealing with losses in Bulgaria (EUR 6.6m) and Albania (EUR 2.3m), as well as losses in textile and technology (nearly EUR 20m in total).

Ryba also believes that Mercator is no competition to large European discount chains or Agrokor’s Konzum because the group had merely built on quality in the past and neglected the prices.

Twelve owners are taking part in a consortium launching what will be the ninth attempt to sell Mercator: brewery Pivovarna Union (12.33%), NLB bank (10.75%), Pivovarna Laško (8.43%), NKBM bank (5.24%), GB Kranj bank (3.80%), Prvi Faktor – Faktoring Beograd (3.35%), beverage producer Radenska (2.75%), Banka Koper (2.07%), Hypo Alpe Adria bank (2%), NFD 1 (1.01%), Banka Celje (0.88%) and NFD Holding (0.74%).