France Plans to Sell $420 Million Engie Stake to Lower Debt

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France plans to sell as much as a 0.9 percent stake in Engie, the natural-gas utility formerly known as GDF Suez SA, as part of a privatization plan.

The government has hired banks to sell as many as 22 million shares in Engie over the next three months “depending on market conditions,” Finance Minister Michel Sapin and Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday in a statement. The state also sold an interest in the utility a year ago.

At Monday’s closing price of 16.89 euros, the stake is valued at about 372 million euros ($420 million). Engie shares fell as much as 1.4 percent on Tuesday, extending their decline in the past year to 18 percent.

European utilities have been hurt by falling power prices as renewable-energy output expands and economic growth remains sluggish. France’s move to sell more shares, part of a privatization program unveiled by Macron last year, will help it lower debt and provide cash to invest in growth industries.

“The sale is within the framework of active management of state holdings,” the ministers said. The government, which owns 809.4 million shares, or 33.2 percent of Engie, will keep a “strategic” interest, they said.

France plans to sell 5 billion euros to 10 billion euros of assets. It has stakes in 74 companies, of which 13 are listed entities whose state holdings were valued at about 80 billion euros as of June 5, according to the agency that manages the portfolio.

Shares in Engie traded down 0.7 percent at 16.78 euros as of 10:39 a.m. local time. The Courbevoie-based utility produces, trades and distributes gas and operates atomic reactors in Belgium.

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