Norway may cut stakes in Telenor, Kongsberg Gruppen

OSLO Thu Jun 19, 2014 6:11pm EDT

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OSLO (Reuters) - Norway's government will ask parliament for the right to cut its stakes in telecommunications company Telenor (TEL.OL) and industrial group Kongsberg Gruppen (KOG.OL) to 34 percent of each entity, the trade minister said on Thursday.

Norway's centre-right minority cabinet, in place since last October, has pledged to reduce the state's role in the economy to give the private sector more breathing space and shrink what it considers a bloated public sector.

"There is no need for changes in state ownership in these companies in the short term, and there is no obligation to divest shares," Trade Minister Monica Maeland said in a statement.

"Any change will depend on commercial considerations, taking into account company-specific aspects as well as market conditions, among other factors," she added.

Norway's government holds 54 percent of Telenor, a global telecoms company with 172 million customers in Europe and Asia. The state owns 50 percent of Kongsberg Gruppen.

A 20 percent stake in Telenor is worth around $7.1 billion at current prices, while a 16 percent stake in Kongsberg Gruppen is worth around $440 million.

The government - with a budget surplus exceeding 10 percent of GDP and a rainy day cash pile worth $880 billion - is under no pressure to raise money.

The state plans to keep big stakes in both companies over the long term as it wants to ensure that both keep their headquarters in Norway.

"We will secure this by holding at least 34 percent of the shares," Maeland said.

The government has stakes in a number of major Norwegian companies, including oil and gas producer Statoil (STL.OL), aluminium producer Norsk Hydro (NHY.OL), bank DNB (DNB.OL) and fertiliser maker Yara (YAR.OL).

On Friday, the government will present its plans to sell the stakes to parliament. However, approval is not certain as the government rules in a minority and needs the support of its outside backers.

(Reporting by Camilla Knudsen; Writing by Balazs Koranyi; Editing by Jan Paschal)

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