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E.ON, GdF sell stake in Slovak gas group

by Andrew Bulkeley  |  Published January 15, 2013 at 8:54 AM
Utilities E.ON SE and GdF Suez SA on Tuesday, Jan. 15, agreed to sell their indirect 49% stake in Slovak gas company Slovenský Plynárenský Priemysel AS as they push ahead with asset sales. SPP majority owner Energeticky a Prumyslovy Holding AS, a Czech gas company known as EPH, agreed to mop up the stake for €2.6 billion (€3.5 billion). The deal is expected to close in the coming weeks and will give EPH all of the target's shares.

For E.ON the deal is part of a broad reshuffle that has focused the Dusseldorf-based utility on central European power generation. Two years ago CEO Johannes Teyssen said he would jettison €15 billion in assets by the end of this year to pay down debt and narrow his company's activities.

The Slovakian sale puts him across the finish line months earlier than expected.

"By selling the SPP stake and reaching our divestment goal early, we have quickly completed our focus on Europe quickly and with very attractive proceeds," Teyssen said in a statement.

The reshuffle became even more imperative when Berlin mandated an end to nuclear power generation in Germany by 2022 after the destruction of Japan's Fukushima plant following the tsunami and earthquake of March 2011. Teutonic utilities are now scrambling for cash to fund other generation sources to replace the looming loss of capacity.

E.ON's divestment program has also included a number of distribution grids, in keeping with the European Commission's efforts to separate power generation and distribution. E.ON has offloaded both a pan-European and an Italy-specific gas grid as well as its U.K. electricity network.

GdF Suez is also working to jettison what it sees as unnecessary businesses after its two-step, £22.8 billion ($36.6 billion) buyout of U.K. rival International Power plc last year.

On Tuesday the Paris-based utility said it had raised more than €5 billion through divestments and hoped to reel in a total €11 billion by the end of next year.

"We will pursue our development in Europe, focusing on a selection of attractive markets," said GDF President and Vice Chairman Jean-Francois Cirelli in a statement.

On the buy side, EPH may not yet be done. It's also participating in the as-much-as €2.4 billion auction of the Net4Gas Sro. The Czech gas pipeline is being sold by JPMorgan Chase & Co. on behalf of E.ON rival RWE AG.

By late morning in Europe, E.ON shares had slid 1.7%, or €0.24, to €13.97 and GdF had fallen just under 1%, or €0.14, to €15.29 following a report showing German economic growth slowed more than expected last year.

Tags: E.ON SE | Energeticky a Prumyslovy Holding AS | GdF Suez SA | International Power plc | Jean-Francois Cirelli | Johannes Teyssen | Net4Gas Sro | Slovenský Plynárenský Priemysel AS | SPP

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