MADRID Spanish oil group Repsol (REP.MC) paved the way for the eventual sale of its $6 billion stake in utility Gas Natural Fenosa (GAS.MC), acknowledging its rationale would dwindle once another planned disposal is completed.
Repsol Chief Financial Officer Miguel Martinez said the need to hold the 30 percent Gas Natural stake would diminish after Repsol closes a deal to sell a large part of its liquefied natural gas (LNG) assets to Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L).
Repsol's Gas Natural stake allows it to sell LNG from its liquefaction plants in Trinidad and Tobago and in Peru, and its regasification plant in Canada, to the gas company. But once it has sold its largest plants - in Trinidad and Tobago and Peru - to Shell, it will have less need for the sale agreement with Gas Natural.
"We are not in a hurry, but it is true, that is something we have to seriously think about," he told investors on a conference call, asked about selling the stake, which is worth 4.5 billion euros ($6 billion) at current market prices.
Repsol will hold on to the smaller, less profitable Canadian plant.
"In the LNG business, the bigger you are and the more ships you have, the more synergies you have," said one oil sector analyst who asked to remain anonymous. "Repsol, having sold those liquefaction plants, doesn't need the Gas Natural stake to open up new markets."
Repsol's comments came after higher production helped it beat second-quarter profit forecasts.
Net profit adjusted for one-time items and inventory costs (CCS adjusted net) rose 5.8 percent to 509 million euros, beating analysts' forecasts of between 402 million euros and 481 million according to a Reuters poll.
Production rose 12 percent to 359,700 barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) per day, putting the company firmly on track to meet its target for 10 percent production growth in 2013.
New projects in Repsol's upstream business have helped it post steady results since the nationalization of its majority stake in Argentine energy company YPF (YPFD.BA) last year.
Growth at the company's LNG business, where operating profit more than doubled in the second quarter from a year earlier, also boosted results and helped compensate for a 45 percent decline in refining margins.
The company is in the process of selling a large part of its LNG assets to Shell for $6.7 billion. That deal is expected to be finalized by the end of the year.
Repsol's CCS earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) rose 4.6 percent to 979 million euros in the quarter against a poll average of 944 million.
Net borrowing totaled 6.32 billion euros at June 30, including a preference share issue - treated as debt for accounting purposes - but excluding borrowings related to the stake in Gas Natural.
Repsol has not yet received compensation from Argentina for the nationalization of YPF. It continues to pursue legal action after unofficial talks over a severance package ended without an agreement last month.
Still, its shares have risen around 50 percent over the past year, slightly outperforming the sector to reach the levels the stock was trading at before the expropriation.
At 1345 GMT, Repsol shares were up 0.3 percent at 17.4 euros, wile Gas Natural's were up 0.5 percent at 14.995 euros.
Among other European integrated oil companies, Statoil missed second-quarter expectations on Thursday.
Peers BP (BP.L), Eni (ENI.MI) and Royal Dutch Shell are due to release second-quarter results next week.
(This story corrects type of plant in Canada in paragraph 3, as not a liquefaction plant)(Editing by Mark Potter and David Holmes)