More than 5 million adult Czechs have bought the 1000-koruna book of investment vouchers that entitles them to shares in over 600 companies earmarked for the second round of voucher privatization.

Officials at the privatization office said they believe by the registration deadline today at least 6 million Czechs above the age of 18, or over 80 percent of the adult population, will sign up. That would exceed the registration rate for the first round launched two years ago.According to the Czech National Property Fund, which administers those companies still in state hands, the second round will include assets valued at close to 150 billion korunas (US$5.08 billion).

The final number of companies included in this round has not been determined, but it is expected to exceed 600. More than 940 companies were transferred to private hands in the first round.

The fund officials said they hope the so-called small privatization, used to denationalize small businesses mainly in the retail and service sector through public auctions, will likely end this year. The proceeds from the small privatization are expected to exceed 31 billion korunas.

This round of voucher privatization is expected to include the country's petrochemical industry, a large portion of the food processing industry and many clinics and hospitals.

Under the rules of the Czech voucher scheme, small investors will be able to redeem their vouchers for available shares in companies of their choice. The value of each share is determined by the size of the demand for it. For example, the 1,000 investment points available to each individual could buy one share in a popular brewery or 20 shares in a fledgling steel mill.

A preliminary round is being held to determine the spread. The most heavily oversubscribed shares are then revalued to reflect the demand.

Although non-citizens are not allowed to participate in the voucher scheme, foreigners can freely trade in shares of the privatized companies on the Prague Bourse or over the counter.

According to the government's schedule, the final list of companies included in the second round will be completed in February and the bidding process will start in March or April and will last several months.