LONDON: Centrica Plc, the U.K.’s largest natural gas distributor, appears to be a takeover target for European operators and speculation over this led to the shares of the company leaping by as much as 4 per cent on the London Stock Exchange, the company’s biggest over the year.
Names of Royal Dutch Shell, Gaz de France and Norsk Hydro are being mentioned as prospective claimants for Windsor-based Centrica, but spokespersons for the company as well as for the European rivals declined to comment on the speculative information. Gaz de France’s spokesperson categorically said in Paris, his firm has no intention to acquire Centrica.
The company’s shares gained 9.25 per cent, closing at 252.75 pence, giving a cap for the company at 9.4 billion pounds. At one time during the trading the price went up as high as 8 per cent.
Centrica meets 63 per cent of gas requirements and 23 per cent of electricity requirements of Britain and has a customer base of 11.7 million. It had increased its tariff last year to take care of rising fuel prices and in the bargain lost some one million customers.
Analysts have been predicting consolidation in the utilities sector in Europe prior to the opening up of the power and gas industries to full competition planned for 2007. An instance of things that are going to happen is the offer by Europe’s fourth largest power company, Suez SA, to buy 50 per of the holding in Electrabel SA of Belgium, which it does not own now at 11.4 billion euros.
Earlier in April this year, there was similar speculation that Centrica is being acquired by Norsk Hydro. Apparently the move did not materialise as the Norwegian government, which owns 44 per cent of the 11-billion-pound Norsk Hydro, was against the deal. Norsk Hydro is an off-shore producer of oil and gas and is also the world’s third-largest integrated aluminium supplier.
Besides British Gas, Centrica operates telecom business One. Tel and home service Dyno. It has its own upstream gas production and power generation facilities.