Privatization in Iran

Iran's disinvestment has brought the government's ownership in the GDP from 80% in 2005 down to 40% by the end of 2009.[1]

According to the Fourth Five-Year Economic Development Plan (2005-2010), the Privatization Organization of Iran affiliated with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance is in charge of setting prices and ceding shares to the general public and on the Tehran Stock Exchange. The privatization effort is primarily backed by reformist members of the Iranian government and society who hope that privatization can bring about economic and social change.

In 2007, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei requested that government officials speed up implementation of the policies outlined in the amendment of Article 44, and move towards economic privatization. Khamenei also suggested that ownership rights should be protected in courts set up by the Justice Ministry; the hope was that this new protection would give an additional measure of security and encourage private investment.[2][3] Despite these statements, true official backing for privatization remains very slow due to political reasons.

Some 80 percent of the companies subject to Article 44 of the Constitution would be transferred to public ownership, 40 percent of which will be conducted through the "Justice Shares" Scheme and the rest through the Bourse Organization. The government will keep the title of the remaining 20 percent.[4]

It is widely believed that if current governmental organizations are privatized they will need to become more efficient. At present many are not profitable due to large numbers of unnecessary employees hired by the government to reduce unemployment. Furthermore, many of these companies are subsidized by oil revenues. True privatization will inevitably lead to many unpopular job cuts and large scale lay offs.[5]

The current privatization effort calls for an initial public offering (IPO) of five percent of the firms being privatized. Once the five percent is public, it will establish a market price that further offerings can be based on. According to a study conducted by the IMF in 18 countries, privatization adds 2 percent to the government’s GDP per annum.[6]

The Iranian constitution

According to the Article 44 of the Iranian Constitution, the economy of Iran is to consist of three sectors: state, cooperative, and private; and is to be based on systematic and sound planning.

A strict interpretation of the above has never been enforced in the Islamic Republic and the private sector has been able to play a much larger role than is outlined in the Constitution. In recent years, the role of the private sector has been further on the increase. Furthermore, an amendment of the article in 2004 has allowed 80 percent of state assets to be privatized (ref: Note C, article 44 of Constitution).[7]


Value of shares divested by IPO (2001-2015)[8]

  Tender (38.5%)
  Iran Fara Bourse (12.8%)
  Negociation (0.2%)

Iranian Revolution and Iran-Iraq war (1979-88)

In July 1979, six months after the victory of the Revolution, 28 private banks that held 43.9 percent of the total assets of all the Iranian banks in their possession, were declared nationalized by the government. At the same time, all the carmaking, copper, steel and aluminum industries, as well as the assets of 51 capitalists and major industrialists and their next of kin were declared nationalized by the government.[9] In 1982, Mostazafen Foundation of Islamic Revolution alone came to possess 203 manufacturing and industrial factories, 472 big agricultural fields, 101 major construction firms, 238 trade and services companies and 2,786 big plots of real estates.[9]

Immediately following the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war over 80% of Iran's economy came under the control of the government. This created numerous problems for Iran as previously internationally competitive companies, such as Iran Air or Iran Khodro, degraded into basic domestic companies that could barely function without massive government subsidies - primarily derived from oil revenues.

Rafsanjani government (1989-97)

After the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, the Iranian government declared its intention to privatize most state industries in an effort to stimulate the ailing economy. The sale of state-owned factories and companies proceeded slowly, however (mostly because of the opposition in Majlis), and most industries remained state-owned in the early 21st century (70% of the economy as of 2006). The majority of heavy industry —including steel, petrochemicals, copper, automobiles, and machine tools— was in the public sector, while most light industry was privately owned.

Khatami government (1997-2005)

In 2004, under the presidency of reformist Mohammad Khatami a number of efforts were made to eliminate the role of the government: The Tehran Stock Exchange was re-launched, which allowed a mechanism for trading shares of government companies. Elements of the constitution (article 44) that decreed that core-infrastructure should remain state run were eliminated,[10] and private banks were launched.

Despite plans to sell billions worth of state assets to the private sector, uptake was very slow. A common criticism of the privatisation effort by investors was the only local Iranian organisations that are capable of buying the large share blocks are themselves government owned. Also analysts have blamed international fears about the Iranian nuclear programme and an absence of transparency and information reporting for the lack of enthusiasm for state assets. In 2005, Iran tried to sell $2.5bn of government assets but only managed to offload less than 30 per cent.[11] At present, at least 20 percent of the companies slated for selloff are officially loss-making. While the rest have earned an average profit of 5.5 percent in recent years, that figure does not take into account the extensive political and economic incentives and monopoly protections that they enjoy.[5]

Ahmadinejad government (2005-2013)

In July 2006, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei decreed a renewed effort to privatise the economy and said in his order that “ceding 80 per cent of the shares of large companies will serve to bring about economic development, social justice and the elimination of poverty”. The decree is also an effort to revive Iran’s stalled privatization programme and kick-start the country’s many uncompetitive industries, which are heavily protected by subsidies.[11]

In February 2008, Iran announced that 3 newly formed Investment Banks (AminIB, Novin[12] and Pasargad Bank) will take share subscriptions and act as an intermediary between the Privatization Organization and the stock exchange, helping Iran divest state-owned enterprises.[13]

Close to 370 trillion rials worth of shares of firms covered by Article 44 of the Constitution have been sold to the private sector from 2006 to 2009. The value of government assets are between 1,000 and 1,100 trillion rials ($110 billion), one third of which have been ceded to the private sector (December 2008).[14]

In 2009 it was reported that 30 percent of the revenues obtained from ceding the ownership of state entities within the framework of Article 44 of the Constitution are allocated to the nationwide cooperatives.[15]

As of 2009, Iran has privatized $63 billion worth of government equity in state-owned firms since 2005 (out of $120 billion). Subsequently, the disinvestment has brought the government's direct ownership in the GDP from 80% down to 40%.[1] However, privatization through the bourse has tended to involve the sale of state-owned enterprises to other state actors such as pension funds.[16]

The Iranian Government announced in 2010 that it aims to raise some $12.5 billion by privatizing more than 500 state-owned firms.[17] The money raised through privatization of the firms will be spent on paying the state's debts.

Rouhani government (2013-)

Iran's government will privatize 27 huge companies, 76 large companies, 31 medium companies, and 31 companies of other sizes in 2014. Huge companies are those companies with the shares value of over 10 trillion rials (about $403 million) and large companies are those with the shares value of over one trillion rials (about $40 million).[18] As of November 2014, the value of shares transferred over the mentioned 1.5 years (about $9.2 billion) is tantamount to the value of shares transferred since the establishment of the organization 12.5 years ago.[19]

As of 2016, regarding privatizations conducted by the IPO, 25% of such entities were divested to the Civil Servants Pension Organization, 15% to the Farmers, Villagers and Nomads’ Social Insurance Fund and 25% to the Social Security Organization and only 5% to the "real private sector".[20]

"Justice shares" plan

Privatization shares distribution

  Workers (5%)
  Government (20%)

The government has approved a plan to offer shares to low-income families, starting with the poorest. Under the “Justice Shares“ plan, millions of Iranian families will receive shares in state-owned firms, the value of which will be reimbursed in 20 years from the dividends generated by those shares. The project is in line with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election promise to improve the condition of Iran’s poor. Ahmadinejad in July 2005 promised to distribute shares to Iranian families, adding that these shares would be from state-run companies that must be privatized.[21] Justice shares are valued at $36 billion as of 2014.[22]


The poorest strata of society shall receive justice shares at a 50 percent discount and will pay the said amount in 10-year installments. Villagers and nomads shall have priority in this respect.[23] The holding period for those shares is a minimum of 2 years [afterwards]. Those covered by charity services rendered by the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee and the State Welfare Organizations as well as the jobless war veterans are prioritized in the first phase of the justice shares initiative. In the second phase, rural population and tribesmen will receive the shares.


Directives on identifying those eligible to receive justice shares (in the second phase) have been issued and the shares will be distributed (among the rural residents and the tribesmen) after receiving their national code number. Up to 6.5 million rural residents who qualify for the shares have been identified and that 1.2 million more people are yet to complete their documents. The Government is promoting the shareholding culture in Iran. The total number of shareholders has reached 700,000 people and this figure is expected to reach 24-25 million. In December 2006, the Government informed that some 4.6 million low-income Iranians had received Justice shares worth $2.5 billion as part of the privatization scheme. Each person received around $550 in shares with a maximum of 5 payments for each family.[24]

In February 2008 the Iranian Economic Ministry announced that some 15 million rural people out of 23 million are entitled to justice shares by the next Iranian year (to start March 20, 2008).[25] In November 2008 Iran announced that some 22.5 million people have received justice shares.[26] However, in 2009 labor leaders complained that workers have received hardly any.[27] More than seven million people have been categorized in the lowest-income bracket.[4] By mid-June 2009, it was reported that almost 40 million people had received justice shares.[28]


The waves of privatizations in Iran have been criticized by both labor and business leaders, albeit for different reasons.[27] Some observers have argued that this "privatization" is modeled on the voucher distribution programs of Russia and Czechoslovakia in the 1990s, which, at least in the case of Russia, led to the rise of the oligarchs.[29] The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance (Iran) has announced that it was forming a special committee to facilitate the process of making Justice Shares tradable in the stock exchange.[22]

Shares for workers

As part of a policy of transferring shares of state firms to employees (5% of privatization proceeds), 20 million shares valued at 18.5 billion rials were transferred during September and October 2008, including to employees of Satkab, Iranian Mines and Mining Industries Development and Renovation Organization, and subsidiaries of the Industrial Development and Renovation Organization.[30]

Iranian expatriates role

Privatization drive will gain momentum once Iranian expatriates begin to invest in their motherland. Iranian nationals residing abroad are holding significant assets. Many have invested their capital in other countries, following the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the 1980-1988 war. Statistics at hand suggest that close to $10 billion (of goods) were re-exported into Iran last year. Multinational companies, particularly Iranian firms mostly owned and controlled by Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, are involved in export of goods into the country from Dubai. There are differing estimates of the expatriates’ total capital (1.3 trillion dollars[31]), but what is clear is that it is so huge that it will be enough to buy shares of all state companies. In Dubai alone, Iranian expatriates are estimated to have invested up to $200 billion.[32] If 10 percent of this capital arrives, things will change drastically in Iran.[33]


In 2000, the Iran Press Service reported that Iranian expatriates had invested between $200 and $400 billion in the United States, Europe, and China, but almost nothing in Iran. The Iranian government's efforts to encourage foreign investment from Iranians in the United States were thwarted in 1997 when President Bill Clinton issued an executive order prohibiting investments in Iran (ILSA).[34] Nevertheless, FIPPA provisions apply to all foreign investors, and many Iranian expatriates based in the US continue to make substantial investments in Iran.[35]

Expatriate fund

The government has proposed setting up a joint investment fund with $5 billion in basic capital and an economic union to serve Iranians living abroad. The stated goal is to attract investment from Iranian expatriates and using their experience in stimulating foreign investments.[36] Later, in 2010, it was announced that Iran will start the process by creating a national fund with a basic capital of eight million euros. This fund will later transform into a bank.[37]

Foreign investment

Foreign investors can bid in Iranian privatisation tenders, but need permission from the Economy Ministry on a case-by-case basis.[11] Iran has announced it will begin to allow foreign firms to purchase Iranian state-run companies, with the possibility of obtaining full ownership.[38]

Offshore fund

A subsidiary of Iran's largest bank, Melli Investment Bank with branches in Dubai (UAE) and London, plans to launch a fund of up to $300 million to invest in the Tehran Stock Exchange, providing an alternative venue for foreigners to invest in the Iranian economy. The market, with a capitalisation of $37 billion, is trading at a fraction of the earnings multiples enjoyed by Iran's neighbours, while average earnings continue to grow at about 25 per cent a year. The fund will be composed of blue chip companies like Iran Khodro and will be based in the Cayman Island and managed from Iran.[39]

Top 100 Iranian companies

The ranking has been assessed by Iran Industrial Management Company for the past 10 years.[40] Based on financial statements for March 2005-06, the ’100 top Iranian corporations’ were ranked and announced in a conference in early 2007. According to the economic expert in charge of the rankings, the main index considered was the sales of companies because “Sales figure indicates the growth of a corporation“.

According to the same survey, while 67 percent of the firms have experienced a decline in profit margin, car manufacturers, cement factories, investment institutions and banks have had an increase in the same index. The Iranian year March 2005-06 was a good year for these industries.

Meanwhile, the Persian daily Ettelaat named the top five corporations as follows: Industrial Development and Renovation Organization (IDRO) ranking first with an asset of 112,658 billion rials followed by Iran Khodro Industrial Group with an asset of 65,971 billion rials, Mining Industries Development and Renovation Organization (IMIDRO) with 52,184 billion rials, SAIPA car factory with 40,528 billion rials and National Iranian Petrochemical Company with 32,024 billion rials. They were followed by SAPCO, Bank Melli Iran, Bank Saderat Iran, Mobarakeh Steel Co. and Bank Mellat taking the sixth to tenth positions.

Latest statistics show that the number of companies worth over one billion dollars on Tehran Stock Exchange (listed companies only) has reached 12. Among them are National Iranian Copper Industries Company (NICIC shares are worth $5.2 billion), Kharg Petrochemical Company, Ghadir petrochemical companies, Khuzestan Steel Company, Power Plant Projects Management Company (MAPNA), Retirement Investment Firm, Metal and Mine Investment Companies, Gol-Gohar Iron Ore Company ($2.1 billion), and Chadormalu Mining and Industrial Company.[41][42]


The assets of the top 100 Iranian publicly traded corporations—not including the National Iranian Oil Company and affiliated companies, various IDRO affiliated companies, the Defense Industries Organization, Iran Air and the Iran Aviation Industries Organization—add up to $86 billion, which is less than that of a corporation such as Microsoft.[43] But this does not account for goodwill that likely increases the real assets value of those same companies to more than one trillion US dollars.[44]

Major companies listed for privatization

Of 1,000 companies awaiting the cabinet’s approval, 240 companies had the green light already to be privatized by March 2008.[45] As of 2014, Iran had also 930 industrial parks and zones, of which 731 are ready to be ceded to the private sector.[46]

Banking and insurance

Most smaller state banks will be open to flotation, but excluded key banks including the Central Bank of Iran, Bank Melli Iran, Sepah Bank of Iran, Bank of Industry and Mines, Bank of Agriculture, Housing Bank (Bank Maskan) and the Export Development Bank of Iran. The privatization-bound banks are Tejarat, Mellat, Refah, Saderat, and Post Bank (ceding 100 percent of stakes of all 5 banks).[47]

Insurance companies Asia, Dana and Alborz will be listed on the stock exchange in 2009 after review and improvement in their financial accounts, internal regulations, organizational structure and dispersion nationwide.[48][49] In 2008, the total insurance premiums generated in Iran were $4.3 billion. This is less than 0.1% of the world’s total, while Iran has approximately 1% of the world’s population. The insurance penetration rate is approximately 1.4%, significantly below the global average of 7.5%. This underdevelopment is also evident in product diversity. Approximately 60% of all insurance premiums are generated from car insurance. Also, 95% of all premiums come from general insurance contracts and only 5% relate to life products. Payout ratios have shown consistent growth over the years. Last year, the industry average payout ratio was 86%.


102 companies out of the total 130, affiliated with IDRO, will be privatized by next March (2009)[50] Leading automakers Iran Khodro and Saipa are also due to be privatized in March 2008.[51] In July 2010, the government sold a further 18% stake in both Iran Khodro and Saipa for about $2 billion in total, bringing down its participation in both companies to about 20%.[52][53] Shares of Iran Tractor Manufacturing Company have also been offered on the Tehran Stock Exchange as part of an IPO.[54]


Shazand power plant

Mapna Company. Sahand, Bistoun, Shazand, Shahid Montazeri, Tous, Shahid Rajaei and Neishabour power stations are among the profit-making plants, work on privatizing them will be finalized by late March 2007.[55] Jahrom, Khalij-e Fars (Persian Gulf) and Sahand power plants will be ceded to the private sector in 2009.[14][56] All domestic power plants will be privatized gradually, except those the government feels it should run to ensure security of the national electricity grid. Power plants of Damavand, Mashhad, Shirvan, Kerman, Khalij-e Fars, Abadan, Bisotoon, Sanandaj, Manjil and Binalood, which have been turned into public limited firms, are ready for privatization.[57] As of 2010, 20 power plants were ready for privatization in Iran.[58] Upon ceding the 20 power plants to IPO, some 40 percent of the capacity of power plants nationwide will be assigned to the private and cooperative sectors.[59]

Mines & metals

National Iranian Copper Industries Co.(NICICO), Mobarakeh Steel Co., Khuzestan Steel Company, Isfahan Steel Mills, Iranian Aluminium Company (IRALCO), Ehdas Sanat Company (ESC) and Iran Alloy Stell Co. are all candidates for privatization.[60][61] The Privatization Organization of Iran has announced that Iranian Aluminium Co. and Bushehr Cement Co. will be privatized in June 2007.[62] The steel, cement and iron ore prices are currently being liberalized in Iran.


As planned, all airline companies except for Civil Aviation Organisation as well as Ports and Shipping Organisation should be ceded to the people. This covers flag carrier Iran Air and its affiliate Iran Aseman Airlines. The fast-growing Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines has also been lobbying for more independence.[11] The government has agreed to offer the shares of Iran Post Company in the bourse (2008).[63] The National Iranian Tanker Company's shares have been offered to the private sector in 2009.[64] In 2009 Iran announced that Imam Khomeini port, its biggest port in the Persian Gulf, will be privatized.[65] Bandar Abbas has also been listed for privatization.[17]


In 2006, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology announced that it will float the shares of affiliated companies such as Mobile Telecommunications Company in the stock market.[66]

Under the general policies of Article 44, telecom companies are categorized in four groups as follows:

In 2009, 51% of TCI was sold to Mobin Trust Consortium, a consortium belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps for the sum of $7.8 billion.[68]

Oil, gas and petrochemicals

Shazand Petrochemical complex.

See also


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