France Selling $618 Million Airbus Stake to Institutions

France said it sold a 451 million euro ($614 million) stake in Airbus Group NV to institutional investors as European governments reduce their control of the manufacturer of the A380 jetliner.

About 8.03 million shares, or 1 percent of the total, were offered in a range between 56 euros and the market price, according to terms of the deal obtained by Bloomberg News. Price guidance on the sale was later revised to 56.25 euros.

France is cutting its ownership of Airbus as part of an agreement to reduce the direct influence of the French, German, and Spanish governments over the company. Reached in the wake of a failed merger with defense contractor BAE Systems Plc, the December 2012 shareholder accord is a step toward Airbus becoming a “normal” firm guided by market forces, Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders has said.

Following the sale, the French, German and Spanish governments will own a minimum of 26 percent of Airbus’s voting stock, French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said in an e-mailed statement.

Shares of Airbus rose 0.4 percent to 56.86 euros at 12:26 p.m. in Paris. The stock has climbed about 76 percent in the past year and is trading near an all-time high after a 2013 order book twice as large as the company predicted.

Space Merger

Enders said this week he may move to shore up the firm’s defense business by taking control of MBDA, a missile manufacturer in which Airbus has a minority holding, and seeking a merger for its space unit.

Shrinking military budgets in Europe are hurting the defense operations even as demand from emerging markets drives growth in sales of commercial airliners. Airbus is exploring ways to speed up production of its A320 and A350 aircraft to shrink wait times for customers, with delivery slots for the former sold out until 2016.

The French government joins sellers including Sweden’s Vattenfall AB and CVC Capital Partners Ltd. that are paring their stakes in European companies after investors returned to the region’s markets in 2013.

Societe Generale SA is managing the sale, according to the terms of the deal. A spokesman for Airbus declined to comment.

Additional share sales in Europe, the Middle East and Africa raised about $116 billion in 2013, more than double what was sold in 2012, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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