“The year has proven to be business as usual,” reports Nenad Popovic, Senior Partner at JPM - Jankovic Popovic Mitic.
“We registered a growth of about 10% for the firm — which we deem to be a rather stable growth — but we’ve also seen a lot of market development,” says Popovic, who points to the banking sector as being particularly active. “A lot of consolidation is due to take place in the banking sector and we are expecting this will continue for a few years because the market is oversaturated.” Popovic predicts that several years down the line the number of banks in the market will decrease from the current 25 to no more than 10. “Now Pirreus has announced they are making an exit and they have a deal with a local group and are only waiting for the Hellenic Stability Fund's green light. The deal will likely close completely a few months down the line but this is just one example and we are seeing consolidation efforts across the board,” he adds. Also on the banking side, Popovic reports that NPLs are doing “quite fine,” with the number having decreased significantly. He adds: “There has been some secondary market trading with the ones acquired by funds in the past now being sold and I suspect it will continue because we are talking about mortgage-backed loans so, really, the only question for those is the price.”
The construction and development has been a “big market” this year, both privately and in terms of infrastructure, according to Popovic, with the a lot of infrastructure projects in the pipeline at the moment, including in the energy and gas distribution sectors. “One big PPP project has been concluded — a waste management plant — and just today we are expecting developments on the Belgrade Airport concession — a project where the interest was strong and we’re eager to see if it pans out or if there will be another extension as several occurred to date,” he reports.
In terms of M&A Popovic qualifies the year as one with “nothing spectacular” happening, but he says that things have moved considerably in the mid-sector. “Some interesting movement has happened in the gambling sector, especially online, with a high interest from foreign investors,” he reports, pointing out that the movement primarily originates from Middle Eastern investors. In fact, he explains that tourism has been growing in 2017, fueled in part by the increased activity in the gambling sector with Middle Eastern tourists coming to Belgrade from countries where it is banned. A growing number of Chinese visitors has added to the growth, since there is no visa requirement and there are direct flights to and from China at the moment. “We’re seeing this on the ground with more and more smaller hotels also being developed these days, which complements the large projects in Belgrade like the Hilton one in the city center.”
“And there is, of course, always an unfortunate side of an economy to be considered,” Popovic says, turning his attention to the large number of bankruptcy and restructuring projects — many of which have been going on since 2008. While the legislation in place extended these proceedings considerably, the positive side, Popovic is that while they were pending these assets have become more and more attractive for potential buyers. The whole market is holding its breath for the Agrokor procedure, and Popovic explains that both Serbia and Slovenia had courts reject the international bankruptcy of the company. “It is a politically-charged matter, of course, but where there is danger there is also an opportunity with some of the usual suspects in the region already showing an interest in these assets,” Popovic explains. “Ultimately, the high number of ongoing proceedings in general is a concern for the economy, but, of course, it does mean work for our industry of legal services,” he concludes.