Lukoil could become main shareholder in Spanish oil major Repsol
AFP - Saturday, November 22
MADRID, Nov 21, 2008 (AFP) - - Russian oil group Lukoil could soon become the leading shareholder in Spanish-Argentine energy major Repsol, a possibility that prompted unease in Spain Friday given Repsol's strategic importance.
Leading Spanish savings bank La Caixa said Friday it was in talks with the private Russian oil giant over the sale of part of its 14.2 percent stake in Spain's largest oil firm.
But it said the operation was conditional on the acquisition by Lukoil of the 20 percent stake in Repsol that heavily indebted Spanish construction group Sacyr Vallehermoso is interested in selling.
"If Lukoil comes to an agreement with Sacyr Vallehermoso to buy its stake in Repsol ... Lukoil could at the same time buy some of the stake in Repsol held by La Caixa," La Caixa said in a regulatory filing.
Insurer Mutua Madrilena is also willing to sell its two percent stake in Repsol to Lukoil, public radio RNE reported Friday.
Sacyr is currently the main shareholder in Repsol, followed by La Caixa.
Under Spanish takeover law, a shareholder must launch an offer for the whole company once it passes the 30 percent threshold.
The conservative daily newspaper ABC has said that Lukoil is seeking to buy just 29.9 percent of Repsol to avoid launching a bid for the whole firm, which has major operations in Latin America, Libya and Algeria.
Repsol is also the second largest shareholder in Spain's largest gas company, Gas Natural, which is in the process of acquiring the electricity group Union Fenosa.
Business daily Cinco Dias reported Friday that Repsol was willing to cede its control of Gas Natural if Lukoil were to become one of its shareholders to ensure that the Spanish government would not oppose the entry of the Russian firm into its capital.
Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teesa de la Vega reiterated Friday that the government preferred Repsol to remain in Spanish hands but would respect the independence and public-listed status of both Lukoil and Repsol.
"The government desires that Repsol continues to be a firm run by Spaniards, with an industrial plan that is positive for the strategic interest and that guarantees supplies," she said after a weekly cabinet meeting.
The comments contrasted with the clear opposition expressed last week by the government to the possible acquistion by Russian state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom of Sacyr's 20 percent stake in Repsol.
Spanish newspapers across the political spectrum came out against Lukoil buying a stake in Repsol, which reported a 5.8 percent fall in third-quarter profits to 699 million euros (875 million dollars).
"Are we so stupid to the point that we will give Respol to the Kremlin?," centre-right daily El Mundo wrote in an editorial, adding that Lukoil president Vagit Alekperov is friends with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Top-selling daily El Pais, which is close to Spain's socialist government, also opposed the deal, saying "it is not the best option for Repsol and the Spanish market."
Repsol is "the nerve centre of the gas and electricity market" because of its links to Gas Natural and Union Fenosa, it added.
The issue is especially sensitive in Spain because in recent years various government attemps to create a "national energy champion" have failed.
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Antonio Brufau, chairman of Spanish-Argentine petroleum giant Repsol, gestures during a first quarter 2008 financial results press conference on the eve of the Annual Shareholders' Meeting in Madrid, May 2008. Russian oil group Lukoil could soon become the leading shareholder in Repsol, a possibility that prompted unease in Spain Friday given Repsol's strategic importance.
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