EDF may swap nuclear plants for Iberdrola stake-paper

Sunday, March 16, 2008

PARIS/MADRID, March 14 (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy has persuaded his Spanish counterpart to let EDF take a 15 to 18 percent stake in Spain's Iberdrola in exchange for control of some nuclear power plants in France, ABC newspaper reported.

Citing no sources, ABC said this solution would allow state-controlled EDF to gain a foot in Spain, and let Iberdrola add more nuclear power to its portfolio while Spain keeps the lid on building more nuclear plants at home.

"In exchange, the national champion of French energy will hand over (to Iberdrola) some basic assets from its business and, specifically, nuclear plants that will be managed by Iberdrola on French territory," ABC said on Friday.

A spokeswoman at EDF declined to comment on Friday's report, only reiterating recent comments made by EDF Chief Executive Pierre Gadonneix on the matter.

Gadonneix has said EDF was interested in entering both the Spanish and Belgian markets only if friendly deals were possible, and indicated that a deal on Iberdrola could take at least 18 months to materialise.

On Friday, Sarkozy said France and Spain were looking for solutions by consensus. "On the energy issue, we are in very regular contact," Sarkozy told a news conference in Brussels.

"We work very well with the Spanish government and we try to find solutions by consensus, not just on electricity, but also on Sacyr, and all current issues," he added, referring to Sacyr Vallehermoso's acrimonious battle to take over French public works and concession firm Eiffage.

Any EDF-Iberdrola deal would need the backing of the Spanish government, which put numerous hurdles in the way of a takeover bid by Germany's E.ON for Endesa, which was eventually bought by Enel and Acciona.

Iberdrola officials were not immediately available to comment on the ABC report.


Iberdrola shares, which have surged some 35 percent since takeover rumours resurfaced at the end of January, were down 2.4 percent at 10.38 euros by 1410 GMT, in a broadly negative European utilities sector.

Meanwhile, EDF shares fell 1.4 percent to 59.53 euros, but some analysts took the report with caution.

"I just don't believe this could happen. EDF cannot give away some of its crown jewels for chicken feed," one Paris-based analyst said, asking not to be named, referring to France's 58 EDF-managed nuclear power plants.

Another analyst, based in London, said the scenario reported by ABC was "yet another rumour thrown into the ring," while Citigroup analyst Alberto Ponti said that "the situation (was) very fluid at the moment, full of contradictory news."

A 15 percent stake in Iberdrola would be worth 8 billion euros ($12.5 billion) at the current share price.

EDF is Europe's biggest utility, with a market capitalisation of 110 billion euros.

Sarkozy and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodrigeuz Zapatero, re-elected to a second four-year term last weekend, met during a European Union summit in Brussels on Thursday.

Iberdrola shares have risen since Sunday's election as investors bet the Socialists would be more sympathetic to EDF getting into the Spanish energy market. France holds a second and final round of local elections on Sunday.

"Clearly the end of the Spanish and French elections will speed things up," said the first analyst. "For the moment, the various parties involved have diverging interests but I am sure a solution will eventually be found."

EDF needs to reach agreement with ACS, which owns 13 percent of Iberdrola, for a deal to happen, the analyst said.

"EDF needs to make ACS happy. It needs to find common ground with them because if ACS gives its shares to EDF, then other Spanish shareholders will follow," he said, suggesting that one way of making ACS happy would be to give it Iberdrola's green energy arm, Iberdrola Renovables.

"We think EDF wants 100 percent of Iberdrola but this is not what ACS would like. ACS wants a part of Iberdrola but it doesn't have the cash."

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