* La Caixa may sell 5-8 percent of Gas Natural this year
* Wants to remain a leading shareholder, source says
* Repsol also studying Gas Natural stake sale
(Adds Caixa comment, analyst comments, potential new
By Jesús Aguado and Tracy Rucinski
MADRID, Sept 11 Spain's Gas Natural Fenosa
is facing a major change in its shareholder base for
the first time as La Caixa and Repsol
consider future stake sales in the latest unwinding of Spanish
Financial group La Caixa and oil major Repsol have
controlled the company since it was created from the merger of
several gas groups in 1992 and the two major shareholders
oversaw two decades of strong international expansion.
On Wednesday, a source close to La Caixa said the bank could
take advantage of any potential sale of Repsol's 30 percent
stake in the gas group, tipped by the oil major in July, to sell
a small part of its own 35-percent holding.
Repsol and Caixa's decades-old shareholders' pact says that
if the two group have less than 50 percent of Gas Natural or if
one cuts its stake to below 15 percent, the agreement is broken.
"La Caixa may sell between 5 percent and 8 percent of Gas
Natural before the end of the year, while maintaining its
position as a leading and controlling shareholder," the source
with direct knowledge of the matter said.
Gas Natural's market capitalisation is about $20 billion.
A La Caixa spokeswoman said it had no plans for a stake sale
right now and was committed to being a majority shareholder.
La Caixa shares jumped 6.4 percent. Gas Natural's were flat.
"If La Caixa, a stable shareholder even in the worst of
times, is really considering selling at a time when the other
large shareholder also wants out, it may have detected enough
buying interest so as to make the deal interesting," Kepler
Cheuvreux analyst Jose Porta said.
Repsol is considering disposing of its Gas Natural stake
because the agreed sale of its liquefied natural gas business to
Royal Dutch Shell, due to close this year, diminishes
the holding's strategic rationale.
But as a steady dividend-generator, Repsol management has
said it is not in a hurry to sell and would prefer for any
future deal to be in agreement with La Caixa and Gas Natural.
Repsol has not yet hired an investment bank to sell the
stake, though financial sources have said that the oil major is
weighing different options for the holding, including a sale to
financial or industrial investors.
As for La Caixa, the group would likely use potential
capital gains from a Gas Natural stake sale to shore up funds
ahead of stricter capital requirements for European banks due to
be implemented from 2014.
Spanish banks are under pressure to sell stakeholdings in
order to shrink their balance sheets. Bankia has sold stakes in
technology company Indra and airline International
La Caixa, which has the largest portfolio of corporate
shareholdings among Spanish lenders, will be under scrutiny in
the next round of European banking stress tests early in 2014.
Gas Natural's No. 3 shareholder is Algeria's state-owned
energy firm Sonatrach with 4 percent, and the two companies are
partners in the Medgaz pipeline that runs from Algeria to Spain.
Sonatrach may be a potential buyer, according to newspaper
Expansion, as well as France's GDF Suez, China's
Sinopec and Mexican magnate Carlos Slim, whom media reports say
has agreed with La Caixa to buy 3 percent of Gas Natural.
Gas Natural is due to present a new business plan this year.
(Additional reporting by Carlos Ruano; Editing by Louise