TEHRAN (AFP) – The Tehran stock exchange has broken its record for the highest ever transaction on the nascent bourse with the sale of shares worth over one billion dollars in a state copper company, media reported on Thursday.
Twenty percent of shares in National Iranian Copper Industries were sold in less than seven minutes on Wednesday for 10 trillion rials (1.1 billion dollars).
The purchaser was a consortium made up mainly of state companies, including the pension funds of the steel industry and state broadcasting, the reports said.
While the shares have been sold as part of the government’s ongoing privatisation programme, the fact the purchasers are themselves state entities casts doubt on whether this can be termed a real privatisation.
Another 20 percent of the company would go on sale in the next week, media reports said.
The deal easily tops the previous high set earlier this year when the Iranian government sold almost 110 million dollars worth of shares in a leading steel company.
The state currently has a grip on over three-quarters of Iran’s economy and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last year issued a decree envisaging a major programme of privatisation.
Drawn up by the Expediency Council, Iran’s top political arbitration body headed by former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the plan aims to ease state control over the economy.
The programme set out by Khamenei to privatise 80 percent of public and state institutions notably excludes firms in the oil and energy sector as well as industries involved in work connected to defence and security.
But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been criticised by observers for dragging his feet on privatisation and seeking to hand out a large proportion of the shares in privatised companies as “justice” shares to the poor.
The Tehran stock exchange slumped following the election of Ahmadinejad in 2005 but has recovered in the last six months and in the last days topped the 10,000 points barrier.