Sunday, 10 April 2022

Sberbank Sells Fortenova Stake to Hungarian Indotek Group

April the 10th, 2022 - The Russian Sberbank has now sold its former 43 percent stake in Fortenova to the Hungarian Indotek company, Fortenova CEO Fabris Perusko has announced.

As Jutarnji/Novac/Andrea Koscec writes, the Russian Sberbank has sold its 43 percent stake in the Fortenova Group to a Hungarian investment fund called Indotek Group, majority owned by one of the richest Hungarians of all, Daniel Jellinek, Bloomberg reported, and soon after, Fortenova confirmed the information on its website.

The price involved hasn't yet been announced, but it was pointed out that in order to conclude the transaction, it was necessary to provide solutions from the competent regulatory authorities across several markets.

In mid-March, Jutarnji list reported that it had "started an in-depth analysis process related to the possible sale of shares within the company" and then announced that Jellinek, who Forbes estimates has a net worth of around 300 million euros, was interested. It was speculated back then, although such processes usually take months, that given the development of the situation in Ukraine and the obvious interest of Sberbank to get out of ownership in Fortenova, an agreement could be reached long before it would otherwise be expected. A spokesman for Daniel Jellinek told Bloomberg that Jellinek sees the deal as a long-term investment, and Indotek will be a strategic partner of the Fortenova Group.

On the occasion of the signing of the sales contract and the announced change of ownership, Fabris Perusko, CEO and member of the Board of Directors of the Fortenova Group, welcomed the entry of Indotek into the ownership structure, which he said recognises as a long-term strategic partner in the co-ownership of Fortenova.

''Despite a possible change in co-ownership, the Fortenova Group continues to operate on a regular basis. Our operating companies are successfully managing market disruptions caused by rising operating costs and disruptions in some supply chains that our many customers aren't feeling and we're fully focused on preparing for this year's season from which we have significant expectations,'' said Perusko.

The Hungarian Indotek Group manages assets worth more than three billion euros in total, and according to its website, Indotek is a financial conglomerate owned by Hungarian and American investors, with a diversified business in real estate, financial services, but also logistics and transportation. The company employs 380 people, is headquartered in Budapest and has 12 branches across the country, as well as its own offices in Spain, Italy, Romania, Poland, Greece and here in Croatia.

Indotek has now become Fortenova's largest single shareholder, but - like the Russian Sberbank has been so far - it will have to seek the consent of the two remaining major shareholders - Pavle Vujnovac, the owner of Enna Group, and Russia's state-owned VTB Bank, which holds a seven percent stake in Fortenova, and is currently sanctioned.

The Fortenova Group is otherwise the largest food trader and producer in Southeastern Europe, and was formed after the settlement of the former Agrokor's creditors back in April 2019. Its financial situation has improved significantly over more recent years, as evidenced by its debt-to-operating ratio (EBITDA). It employs about 50,000 people.

For more, check out our business section.

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Bizarre Fake Pro-Putin Zagreb IKEA Photos Circulating in Russia

March the 23rd, 2022 - The situation in Russia is bizarre to say the very least. With the media tightly controlled and threats of imprisonment imposed on those publicly opposing the invasion of neighbouring Ukraine, it's even odder to think that someone has employed their Photoshop skills into creating fake Zagreb IKEA photos which showcase Vladimir Putin.

Do you remember the quote that you'd wish on someone you weren't really the biggest fan in the world of? ''May you live in interesting times''. I think someone has said that to the majority of the population of the world over the last couple of years. As if a pandemic and now a war accompanied by soaring prices wasn't quite enough. Now someone has decided to try to frame Zagreb's IKEA store, of all places, as being a pro-Putin establishment.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, the Russian media, which can barely be called free-thinking or independent, reported this week that here in Zagreb, the employees of IKEA are pro-Putin. Yes, you read that right.

''In Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, IKEA employees posted photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin in support of the special operation in Ukraine," Russian media reported.

"In Zagreb, at the local IKEA, portraits of Vladimir Putin were placed in all photo frames in their salons. Obviously, the IKEA employees did it themselves," the Russian channel went onto try to claim to the Russian public.

Based on the results of the audit, IKEA was very quick to confirm that these were fake photos that the state agency RIA Novosti were publishing.

“These pictures are fake and not real photos from the real store. We have no other information so far,'' said a company spokeswoman of the extremely strange Zagreb IKEA photos. The fact that someone has too much time on their hands is evident, but trying to use an IKEA store to clutch at straws for Putin support is perhaps one of the oddest events in this dire situation so far. Even Blahaj the famous IKEA shark looks displeased sitting next to Vladimir.

For more, check our lifestyle section.

Monday, 21 March 2022

Russian Fortenova Co-Ownership Ending Following Ukraine Invasion

March the 21st, 2022 - Russian Fortenova co-ownership will be coming to an end following that country's unjustified invasion of neighbouring Ukraine. The Russian Fortenova co-ownership is otherwise through it's largest commercial bank, Sberbank.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, Russia's largest commercial bank, Sberbank, will soon cease to be a co-owner of Croatia's Fortenova Group (former Agrokor). Sberbank's 44 percent Russian Fortenova co-ownership stake will apparently be taken over by the Indotek group, backed by American-Hungarian capital, Vecernji list writes.

The majority owner of the Indotek group is Daniel Jellinek, who, at least according to Forbes magazine, ranks ninth on the list of the richest Hungarians in the world. According to Vecernji list, the in-depth recording process to make room for the business move has begun, and insiders expect the transaction to be concluded within a few weeks.

From the Croatian economic point of view, it is important that Indotek is, in both the business and capital sense, very well connected with the American business conglomerate Bohemian Group, which is owned by the powerful and rich American Stryker family.

Until recently, the Bohemian Group was the second largest single owner of Indotek after Jellinek, with an ownership share of 33 percent, and today it still participates with its capital in various Indotek projects. The Indotek Group is one of the leading investment management companies in all of Central and Eastern Europe.

The main activity of the group is the acquisition of real estate/property and corporate receivables, and their investment portfolio makes it one of the most important players in the region of Central and Eastern Europe.

One of the long-term benefits of this transaction which will end Russian Fortenova co-ownership, if realised, stems from the fact that with the arrival of Jellinek as a potential operational partner of Fortenova in the joint acquisition of international brands and opening new markets in the future, the French retail giant Auchan is mentioned, with which Indotek is negotiating strategic cooperation and ownership alliances.

For more, make sure to check out our business section.

Saturday, 19 March 2022

Russian Sanctions Problematic for Croatian Wood Floor Manufacturers

March the 19th, 2022 - Croatian wood floor manufacturers have become an unlikely victim in the harsh but necessary sanctions most of the world has imposed on Russia following its unjustified invasion of neighbouring Ukraine last month.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Jadranka Dozan writes, the proverbial earthquakes triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine across global markets - primarily through supply chain disruptions, and then the prices of energy, food, various industrial raw materials and goods - aren't, of course, bypass the wood sector. Croatian wood floor manufacturers are far from immune.

In addition to an already quite complicated business environment, some new complications related to certain sectors are now beginning to arise almost on a daily basis. This is particularly the case in the wood and paper industries, when it comes to fuel chips, plywood logs and the like. A decision was prepared as a counter-sanction aimed at countries on Russia's hostile list, from the US to the European Union (EU), and is scheduled for the end of the year.

For some European companies, but also Croatian industrial companies and retailers, the related delivery problems are even greater. All of these difficulties only work to further emphasise the long-standing belief that the raw material potential Croatia boasts should be better used.

This means investing in capacities and technology that would result, among other things, in the production of greater added value. It's worth really highlighting the fact that the Croatian wood sector is one of the few industries where the country actually has all of the proper raw materials for the job.

Over recent days, Bjelin, owned by Darko Pervan and which started building a wooden floor factory in Ogulin last year, announced that the group had decided to increase and improve investments in existing facilities and speed up the completion of a new Croatian factory. The company says this should make a significant contribution to replacing part of the wooden floor production capacity that is now being lost in connection with the Russian war against Ukraine.

However, for most of the companies within the HUP-Association of the Wood and Paper Industry, the problems they're facing are currently in a stronger focus.

"Economic sanctions imposed by the EU, and thus Croatia in relation to economic relations with the Russian Federation, as well as the announced decision of Russia to ban the export of birch wood products, are causing very serious problems for Croatian wood floor producers," said Ivica Pasalic, adding that the EU's decisions should point to very high penalties for violating sanctions in any way, including through third countries.

Russia produces 75 percent of the world's birch plywood production and their manufacturers have been the dominant suppliers to a number of our two-layer parquet manufacturers. As Pasalic pointed out, practically all of them have had very serious problems when it comes to production and are in danger of being stopped entirely. Finding alternative solutions, on the other hand, is neither quick nor easy.

The Association also intends to try to arrive to a solution through social dialogue with the competent ministry, because, as he said, a large number of workers work in these factories, and they're threatened with losing their jobs, and companies are shutting down production.

Stjepan Vojinic from the management board of the Bjelin Group pointed out that the situation with the shortage of raw materials and semi-finished products caused by the war in Ukraine is serious for all European producers of various types of wooden floors, but also the wider furniture industry.

The most affected, he said, are those countries that don't have the primary raw materials at hand (mainly oak) in the flooring industry, where Ukraine, Russia and Belarus participated with approximately 30 percent of those total needs. In addition, the issue of the general dependence of the European furniture industry on HDF and plywood, primarily from Russia, is coming to the fore.

As usual, crises can be seen as opportunities. "Nobody likes to have to develop and grow at the expense of other people's troubles, but this is a situation that we didn't want and we couldn't have had any influence over it in any way, so we shouldn't be ashamed of that and we should try to use it," said Vojinic.

The Bjelin Group, he says, is working hard to accelerate its planned investments that will lead to growth in production and implementation of new technologies.

“How successful we'll be depends only on us, because we have to start our production of new Woodur wood floor coverings, which we now have in Sweden, and we'll have that here in Croatia as soon as possible, too. The new plan is to have the final finishing by the end of this year, and the complete production by the end of the next year,'' announced Vojinic.

It's worth noting that Bjelin gets all its oak raw materials from Croatia, but Russia and Ukraine are also large exporters of oak and other wood materials for the flooring industry, and have significant parquet production, which is now directly affected by the war and the accompanying sanctions.

 According to company estimates, 25 percent of oak planks produced for European markets come from Russia and Ukraine. Due to all of this, it has been calculated that many construction projects are now in danger of significant delays due to the cancellations of deliveries.

This, of course, doesn' only apply to floor coverings. Other players in the wider wood sector, from wood processors to retailers, are also facing complex supply chain problems owing to the current dire situation between Russia and Ukraine. Some will say that until recently, they "flirted" with foreign partners about prices, and now it's a much bigger challenge to even try to ensure delivery.

Mladen Jambrovic, the first man of Iverpan, says that quarterly or multi-month detailed planning no longer works, now they are much shorter due to disruptions and the general level of unpredictability of deliveries. Demand, he says, is not falling.

The construction sector is quite active, and after the preparations for the tourist season were delayed last year due to the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, this year they started much earlier, which ultimately affects the demand for wood products related to interiors.

Emphasising the complexity of the overall business conditions, he noted that in the production of plywood, for example, goods today are ordered for delivery in two, three or four months. In addition, it is an energy-intensive activity, with gas being the main energy source.

For wood centres and/or furniture manufacturers, there are also problems related to the situation with some ancillary goods, products and markets, from steel (fittings, hinges) to glue, fillers or cardboard; these are all segments of considerable importance to both Ukraine and Russia. All in all, good demand today is accompanied by many "buts", and this will continue to have a very strong effect on Croatian wood floor manufacturers.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated business section.

Sunday, 27 February 2022

Hauliers Association Offers Buses for Refugees From Ukraine

ZAGREB, 27 Feb 2022 - The Croatian Bus Hauliers Association said on Sunday it put its buses and manpower at the government's disposal for the transport of refugees from Ukraine.

"We wish to contribute... because that's our responsibility, and it's also the only way in which refugees can be transported in an organised and effective way from the Ukrainian border to envisaged locations in Croatia," Dražen Divjak, director general of the Arriva bus company, said on the association's behalf.

The association comprises big and small private hauliers with thousands of buses and more than 8,000 workers.

"It's a system which has strategic importance for Croatia and which would hardly have survived during the pandemic had the government not protected it with its measures in the last two years," the association said.

Divjak called on the many counties in Croatia which have said that they have prepared accommodation for refugees to contact them, in coordination with the Civil Protection, so that they can transport a larger number of refugees.

He said the bus hauliers were at the government's disposal "for anything else that is necessary to solve this crisis."

For more on the Ukraine crisis and Croatia, as well as breaking news, follow our news section.

Sunday, 27 February 2022

Ukrainian Refugee Reception Centre Set up in Osijek

ZAGREB, 27 Feb 2022 - A reception centre for Ukrainian refugees has been set up in a sports hall in Osijek which can provide temporary accommodation for 300 persons, local Civil Protection services said.

The centre is intended for refugees arriving in the five Slavonia counties, Osijek-Baranja County deputy prefect Mato Lukić said on Sunday, adding that beds were set up in the sports hall and that meals will be provided today if necessary.

He said talks were under way with hotels and motels in the Osijek area for the provision of more permanent accommodation.

Lukić said one Ukrainian family arrived at the reception centre this morning to apply for refugee status, after which it found private accommodation in Vukovar-Srijem County.

Osijek Deputy Mayor Dragan Vulin said that, if necessary, buses would go to the Hungarian and Serbian borders to bring Ukrainian refugees to the reception centre in Osijek.

The director of the Osijek city branch of the Red Cross, Martina Hećimović, said search teams were ready for the registration of refugees as were psychosocial assistance teams.

She said many citizens were contacting the Red Cross to express their willingness to accommodate refugees.

For more on the Ukraine crisis and Croatia, as well as breaking news, follow our news section.

Saturday, 26 February 2022

Croatian Soldiers Being Sent to NATO's  Very High Readiness Joint Task Force

February the 26th, 2022 - Ten Croatian soldiers are being sent out as part of NATO's Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), which the Republic of Croatia has said it has done as a responsible NATO country.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, at a recently held session, the Croatian Government adopted the Draft Proposal of the Decision on the Declaration of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Croatia within the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force from the NATO Response Force (NRF).

At the session, Minister of Defense Mario Banozic noted that the Decision on the Establishment of a NATO Response Force was adopted back in 2002 at the NATO Summit in the Czech capital city of Prague, and at the NATO Summit in Wales back in 2014, a decision was adopted to establish NATO's Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.

''In order to contribute to Euro-Atlantic security, the Republic of Croatia has recognised the importance of active participation in the High Readiness Joint Task Force and, in accordance with the possibilities, has declared the forces and their composition. Therefore, at the proposal of the Government of the Republic of Croatia, back in 2015 the Croatian Parliament made a decision on the possibility of engaging forces within the High Readiness Joint Task Force from the NATO Response Force,'' said Minister Banozic.

''An analysis of the possibility of declaring these forces has been carried out at the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff of the Armed Forces. In accordance with that, this Decision proposes the declaration of up to ten members of the Croatian Armed Forces for engagement within the High Readiness Joint Task Force from the NATO Response Force in 2022 and 2023,'' the Minister pointed out.

The declaration of the engagement of 10 Croatian soldiers is in line with the national interests of the Republic of Croatia, as a responsible member of NATO, which continues to build international credibility and actively contributes to the collective defense of the Alliance and security of the Euro-Atlantic area, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

For more, check out our politics section.

Sunday, 20 February 2022

Croatia Advises its Citizens to Leave East Ukraine

ZAGREB, 20 Feb 2022 - Croatia has advised its citizens staying in east Ukrine to leave that area, Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said in Munich on Sunday.

The recommendation has been adopted during an intensive communication session with Croatia's Ambassador in Kyev and following the experience of other countries, said the minister.

A week ago, Grlić Radman said that there were 25 Croatians in the east of that country.

Most of them are believed to have departed from the area in the meantime.

The Croatian minister said in Munich today that the situation in Ukrine was worrisome, however this did not mean that it would escalate.

"Diplomatic efforts are being made to prevent escalation", said Grlić Radman in the Bavarian capital city where he attended the international security conference.

This year's conference has brought together US Vice President Kamala Harris, State Secretary Antony Blinken, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, amongst other office-holders.

Russia has not sent any representative for the first time in recent years.

For more, check out our politics section.

Friday, 11 February 2022

Croatian MEP: Russian Troops on Ukraine Border Not Local Issue But Global Threat

ZAGREB, 11 Feb 2022 - The buildup of Russian forces along the Russia-Ukraine border is not a local problem but a global security threat, Croatian member of the European Parliament, Tonino Picula, told the BBC on Thursday.

The war with the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine is entering its eighth year, and pro-Russian separatists, supported by Russia, carried out secession of the three eastern Ukrainian areas:  Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea, said Picula, a foreign policy coordinator of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament.

According to a statement issued by Picula's office, the MEP said that Ukrainians deserved to be commended for their rational attitude.

It can seem paradoxical that while Ukraine is facing a dramatic situation, citizens and the state leadership of that country are not inclined to dramatize it. Citizens are definitely worried but they are not panicking, the Croatian MEP says.

He added that even without direct military aggression, Russia has been undermining Ukraine's democratic, social and economic development for years, through the dissemination of misinformation and other means, he added.

Picula said, among other things, that during this crisis many European leaders have an opportunity to show their position on the current security architecture in Europe.

Picula believes that the unity of the West is now of crucial importance.

Commenting on the Russian and the European approach, Picula said that it is much simpler for Russia to speak in unison, as it is President Vladimir Putin who speaks about the matter.

On the other hand, the West is pluralistic, various member-states have different sensibilities and interests. In this crisis it is most important to stick to the joint approach in order to make it impossible for Russia to take advantage of disagreements in a bid to attack the sovereignty of Ukraine, said Picula.

"This crisis is a big stress test for us in the European Union, the biggest one since the wars after the breakup of Yugoslavia," he added calling for the European support to Ukrainians' efforts to defend their freedom and way of life.

For more, check out our politics section.