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Privatisation and ownership: the impact on firms in transition survey evidence from Bulgaria

Atanas Christev () and Hans-Georg Petersen ()

No S-17, Finanzwissenschaftliche Diskussionsbeiträge : Specials series: Industrial and social policies in countries in transition from Universität Potsdam, Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Fakultät

Abstract: Previous papers in this Special Series, have described in detail the theoretical background and development patterns, along with some empirical results, for the privatisation processes in Bulgaria and Poland. A range of issues have been raised which demand closer empirical investigation. For this purpose, the research group has developed questionnaire studies for Bulgaria and Poland. In Bulgaria, the National Statistical Institute (NSI) carried out the case studies between February and April 1998. The problems of the questionnaire set-up were identified in apre-test study, but unlike the Polish case, they led to only minor differentiation. Since financial limitations prevented a larger sample size, a sample size of 61 mid-sized and large Bulgarian enterprises was selected. Failure to respond was not a serious problem, unlike with the Polish questionnaire; this is because the NSI has maintained good links to the enterprise sector and management were prepared to give detailed answers, even on questions of their firms' financial status. However, as the Polish experience suggests, it has become obvious that the privatisation process is also associated with management's increasing reluctance to answer comparatively 'intimate' questions. Thus, future questionnaire studies must take a much higher rate of refusals into consideration. The pre-selection procedure in Bulgaria was determined by the project target, which sought to analyse the effects of the privatisation process on firm' s behaviour during the transition process, and hence only firms which had already existed before the changes were included. For small and medium-size enterprises (SME's), most of which were founded after the changes, partly due to the legal processes of spontaneous privatisation, some empirical, as weIl as analytical, studies were carried out. Thus, the research group limited the scope of investigation to enterprises with more than 250 employees. The underlying hypothesis is that employment problems are concentrated in larger firms, in particular amongst those still (partly) state owned. Because of the former ownership structures and relatively slower capacity for management change, the assumption is that state-owned enterprises (SOE's) which have only been recently privatised might still have traditional links to government even after privatisation. On the one hand, the SME's are obviously more prone to, and linked with, market processes. As a result, they don't have the financial potential and incentives to follow job-hoarding strategies. On the other hand, there are almost no SME's which are still stateowned. Hence, the prevailing opinion in the literature is that 'larger industrial firms were apt to be least efficient, most often producing inadequate and non-competitive products, with a high degree ofunder-utilisation oflabour and most inflexible to change' (lones & Nikolov 1997, p. 252). Thus, as mentioned above, though there may be some limitations with regard to firm representation, our sample characterises a number of enterprises that offer fertile ground for the analysis of firms' adjustment to the newly established market realities in a transition economy. Our study is unique in the sense that existing empirical studies on privatisation and enterprise restructuring generally cover the time period just before and after the initial stages of transition, e.g. 1988/89 to 1992. In those studies, samples of firms in the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria recognise that behavioural adaptations at the enterprise level had taken place just before the actual privatisation process materialised. Therefore, almost all of the firms under examination were still state-owned. The firms were usually divided according to their performance as 'good', 'average' and 'bad' enterprises. The main findings of those early studies have shown that the macroeconomic adaptations (i.e., macro-level changes which induced micro-level adjustment by the firms), as well as emerging market structures, have created enormous pressures which in turn have influenced firms' economic behaviour, reallocation of resources and consequent restructuring. This evidence supports the hypothesis that the SOE's started restructuring and adjusting their behaviour and performance, in response to the harsh realities of more open markets, before privatisation actually started. In this paper, we seek to present some results on these developments in Bulgaria, at the later stages of transition and privatisation (1992-1996). The aim of our questionnaire study is therefore to show the effects of the privatisation process and ownership on the behavioural adaptations of firms which had once been state-owned or continue to be owned by the state. The period under investigation is 1992 to 1996. For 1990 and 1991, the number of missing values is reactively high and, where relevant, we partly exclude these observations from our analysis. The paper contains seven sections. Section 11 outlines the macroeconomic environment in which our sample firms operate, provides some specifics of the Bulgarian privatisation process, and discusses data quality. Section 111 concentrates on the analysis of privatisation, the specific forms of ownership that resulted from it, and firm size. In Section IV, we describe the trends of the main economic variables within firms (such as employment, wages, labour productivity, etc), and a number of proxies of firm viability, while Section V presents some regression results to corroborate the discussion of the previous section. Section VI gives an overview of survey results of the impact of enterprise determined wage policy, trade union activity and membership, government control, and social benefits on enterprise restructuring. Section VII is a summary of our findings.

Date: 1999-07
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