Europe’s Strange State Enterprise Striations

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By: admin

An IMF working paper divides state-owned firms into the “good, bad and ugly” in a dozen European countries with financial, operating and governance indicators benchmarked  against Sweden in an attempt to assess the legacy of “inconsistent privatization” often leaving heavy debt and poor productivity. Efficiency and profitability lag private competitors, particularly in Southeast Europe and the Baltics. Slovenia, Lithuania and Latvia bolstered oversight but Bulgaria is behind on centralizing ownership rather than putting ministries in charge, clarifying dividend policies and professionalizing boards. Over 6000 companies are tracked across eight industries, dominated by health care and utilities. They contribute 1-10 percent of GDP and employment, with differences in the two readings reflecting relative capital and labor intensity. Energy sector output is over half government-controlled in Hungary and Poland, while mining is a main category in Estonia and Sweden. Losses are concentrated in several lines, including electricity in Bulgaria, transport in Croatia, and banking in Latvia. In Sweden by comparison large profits come from gaming and real estate. Debt in a handful of countries stands at 5-7 percent of GDP, and Bulgaria, Romania and Poland are at the bottom in return on equity. Extrapolating from the World Economic Forum’s infrastructure scores, the Baltics provide superior company quality to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Firm-level difficulties pose macro fiscal and financial stability risks, with high contingent liabilities in Sweden and Slovenia’s two-thirds state-directed banks sparking a crisis five years ago that almost required Brussels rescue. Productivity tends to suffer unless foreign investors are also active, and the record is uneven on following core OECD corporate governance rules, with political interference worst in Bulgaria and Lithuania. EBRD transition measures likewise show gaps on hard budget limits, bankruptcy law enforcement and competition. Ownership guidelines are inconsistent and overlap with policy responsibility, and board member nomination and compensation procedures are opaque and not skills-based. The review urges comprehensive reform with the understanding that even healthy legal regimes fail on implementation.

Europe and Central Asia were again standouts in the World Bank’s latest Doing Business survey with 80 percent of economies taking strides in the dozen areas tracked, and Macedonia and Georgia in the top 20 of 190 nations, with both leading regulation revamp since publication launch fifteen years ago. Latvia and Lithuania are close behind with bankruptcy and tax shifts evaluated by tens of thousands of ground-level professionals as the raw study input. The European Union has commissioned its own sub-national work already profiling the Balkans, and Central Asia members Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan led the reform pack the past year. Kosovo also completed insolvency overhaul, and Belarus and Mongolia passed movable property laws to widen credit access. On minority shareholder rights, Kazakhstan mandated independent directors and an audit committee, and Georgia eased liability lawsuits. Loan reporting was strengthened in Slovenia, but business startup remains the signature catalyst in the region and globally with 2017 steps in the Czech Republic, Serbia and Tajikistan, although it was not highlighted in its maiden external bond prospectus which focused on dam construction for hydropower projects involving other key enterprise pillars on elusive electricity and permits.

 

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