GDF Suez and China Investment Corp are in exclusive talks to seal a $4 billion (Dh14.69 billion) alliance that will help the French utility fund its expansion in booming Asia and offer Beijing access to new energy resources.
The world's biggest utility outlined the details of the partnership, its second large deal in a year after the purchase of 70 per cent of International Power, as it unveiled first-half earnings that beat forecasts.
Under the partnership, China's sovereign wealth fund CIC will pay €2.3 billion (Dh12 billion) for a 30 per cent stake in GDF Suez's exploration and production unit.
CIC will also purchase the French group's 10 per cent stake in a natural gas liquefaction plant in Trinidad and Tobago for €600 million, a joint statement said.
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The fund will also co-finance GDF Suez's projects in Asia and the Pacific, expanding a gas exploration and production business that has represented less than 3 per cent of its sales, and help the utility win deals in the high-growth region.
"The Asia-Pacific is clearly a very promising region for gas operations. It is crucial that a key gas operator like GDF Suez has the means to play an important role in the region," GDF Suez Chief Executive Gerard Mestrallet said.
Mestrallet, who has said the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March had opened the way for a "golden age" of gas, estimated that Asia accounted for two thirds of the world's LNG market.
The $400 billion fund and the utility expect to finalise the deal by year-end.
GDF Suez shares were up 2.3 per cent at €20.47, outpacing the rest of a flat European utilities sector.
"The notable news is that the company confirmed talks for the sale of a 30 per cent stake in the E&P division to CIC and confirmed its targets targets for 2011, which should be well interpreted by the market," said a trader in Paris.
GDF Suez's first-half earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) rose 8.2 per cent to €8.9 billion, beating analysts' expectations. The gain was largely fuelled by the acquisition of International Power.
GDF Suez confirmed it aimed to reach full-year EBITDA of €17 to €17.5 billion, although it said the estimate did not factor in the risk of a freeze in France's state-set gas tariffs in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election.
The US and European Union debt crises could contribute to slow down western economies but the negative impact should be more than offset by strong activity in emerging countries, said Mestrallet. He argued in an interview with newspaper Le Figaro that a new recession was unlikely.
GDF Suez plans to spend an average €11 billion a year in 2011-2013 on gas and power production projects in emerging countries, where it expects 80 per cent of the world's new power production capacity to be built over the next 20 years.
Getting the backing of CIC means GDF Suez will be able to share the funding effort on capital-intensive exploration and production projects. In Australia for instance, GDF Suez is due to make an investment decision for the Bonaparte LNG project, which analysts estimate at around $8 billion.
The agreement would mark a latest bid by China, which has been scouring the globe to secure access to energy to fuel its booming economy, to boost its influence over Western-owned energy assets.
Last month, China's top offshore oil producer CNOOC agreed to buy struggling oil sands company Opti Canada, soon after PetroChina failed to agree on the terms of a $5.6 billion venture with Encana Corp.