Czech billionaire launches raid on Royal Mail

Czech billionaire launches raid on Royal Mail, buying more than 5% of postal service

A Czech billionaire who owns Sparta Prague football club has launched a raid on Royal Mail, buying more than 5 per cent of the postal service. 

The swoop by Daniel Kretinsky, who has also recently snapped up stakes in other major European companies, will stoke speculation he could launch a full takeover bid. 

Kretinsky – worth a reported £2.7 billion – has bought a 5.35 per cent stake in Royal Mail worth £85 million through the Vesa Equity Investment vehicle that he controls and co-owns with his Slovak business partner Patrik Tkac, the chairman of Czech bank J&T. 

Struggle: Royal Mail shares have tumbled more than 30 per cent this year and it scrapped its dividend at the end of March

Royal Mail shares have tumbled more than 30 per cent this year and it scrapped its dividend at the end of March to conserve cash during the coronavirus crisis. 

However, analysts have suggested it may be benefiting from a surge in parcel deliveries in the lockdown. 

Kretinsky, who recently contracted coronavirus, made his for tune in energy. He and Tkac have also built up stakes in German retail giant Metro and French supermarket group Casino. Kretinsky, who has been dubbed the ‘Czech Sphinx’ for being difficult to read, also recently bought a stake in French newspaper Le Monde. 

The 44-year-old launched a full takeover bid for Metro last year, but increased his stake to become the largest shareholder after his £5 billion offer was rejected. It is unclear what his intentions are at Royal Mail. 

Kretinsky joined J&T in 1999 and formed a powerful partnership with Tkac, a co-founder of the bank. J&T spun off its energy assets in 2009 and Kretinsky became a shareholder in the newly formed company called EPH. 

He now owns almost the whole group, which embarked on a buying spree, giving it energy transmission networks and gas pipelines, as well as power plants in the UK. 

In recent years, EPH has bought four power stations – Eggborough, North Yorkshire; Lynemouth, Northumberland; Langage, Devon; and South Humber Bank, Lincolnshire. 

In March, EPH bought Humbly Grove Energy, an underground gas facility in Hampshire. Reports last month suggested Kretinsky spent his time in self-isolation scouring overseas markets for investments. 

He told Reuters: ‘Energy will remain a key pillar of our operations and we will indeed explore ways to grow our presence there. However, we are less optimistic in our capability to do so. 

‘For the diversification strategy I think the existing investments are signalling our way but give us a few weeks to make a more structured announcement.’ 

Royal Mail declined to comment. A spokesman for EPH did not respond to requests for comment.