EUROPE – Today’s €11.2bn offer for Belgium’s Electrabel from Suez SA follows a Calpers-backed request for an enquiry into the firms’ ownership.
The French utility unveiled the offer for its part-owned subsidiary three months after asset management firm
Knight Vinke Asset Management had sought a judicial enquiry into the matter.
KVAM is part of Knight Vinke Institutional Partners which is backed and partly-owned by the $180bn California Public Employees Retirement System.
KVAM filed a complaint last May with the Brussels Commercial Court. It had asked for judicial experts to assess whether Suez, with 50.1% of Electrabel, influenced its subsidiary to the detriment of minority stakeholders.
KVAM had called into question the “systematic use of Electrabel’s excess cash to fund Suez” and the use of “illicit eavesdropping techniques” to monitor Electrabel’s senior management.
It is not clear whether KVAM’s requests for transparency were a catalyst in today’s offer. Suez was not available for comment.
Bernard Thuysbaert, a partner of the independent consulting practice Deminor, which was not involved in this transaction, told IPE he did not see the offer as a sign of victory for minority stakeholders.
Thuysbaert said the question had been discussed for years and he saw today’s move more as a question of “market perception” than shareholder activism.
Suez chairman and chief executive Gerard Mestrallet is also chairman at Electrabel. He was quoted in a Suez statement as saying that the board of directors had unanimously approved the terms of the offer.
“This transaction which can be seen within the framework of setting up a European company, allows for the creation of a powerful Franco-Belgian group,” he said.
Last month it emerged that the Suez-Tractebel Pension Fund was among investors in a European infrastructure fund run by Australian bank Macquarie.