* Eni places 11.7 pct of Snam at 3.69 euros/shr
* Eni focusing on core E&P business
* Sale is Europe’s No. 4 accelerated book build this year
* Snam shares close down 5.1 pct (adds bookbuilder comments)
By Stephen Jewkes
MILAN, May 9 (Reuters) - Italian oil major Eni took a step towards offloading its gas transport company Snam on Thursday when it sold a stake for 1.45 billion euros ($1.9 billion) in one of Europe’s biggest equity sales of the year.
The world’s seventh-largest oil company by production is selling non-core assets to focus on more lucrative exploration and production business.
In May last year Chief Executive Paolo Scaroni said he intended to exit from Snam completely. The sale of the 11.69 percent stake leaves Eni with 8.54 percent of Snam.
The share sale was the fourth biggest accelerated bookbuilding (ABB) deal this year, including two sales of shares in Airbus parent EADS, most of which came with a similar discount in the pricing.
“Around 88 percent of demand came from outside Italy, 70 percent from U.S. and UK investors,” Olivier Khayat, deputy head of CIB at UniCredit, one of the two bookrunners, told Reuters.
“It’s the biggest ABB in Italy since 2005 and the demand diversification shows there’s a return of appetite for Italian assets,” he said.
Eni, Italy’s biggest listed company, placed the stake at 3.69 euros a share, the bottom of a pricing range that traders said extended up to 3.77 euros and well below Snam’s closing price of 3.83 euros on Wednesday.
News of the sale triggered a sell-off in Snam shares. The stock ended down 5.1 percent at 3.652 euros.
Last year the Italian government called on Eni to sell its controlling stake in Snam as it seeks to improve competition in the gas sector and reduce prices.
Rome considers the gas transportation network a strategic asset and state-controlled financing company Cassa dei Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) has bought a near-30 percent stake in Snam.
Eni’s remaining stake in Snam is linked to a 1.25 billion euro convertible bond it placed in January.
“Eni basically has no interest left in Snam, since the bond is structured in a way that Eni will tender its shares,” a source close to the situation said, noting that Eni voting rights have been frozen since the first sale to CDP.
JP Morgan and UniCredit were joint bookrunners in Thursday’s sale.
$1 = 0.7637 euros Additional reporting by Maria Pia Quaglia and Elisa Anzolin; Writing by Lisa Jucca and Stephen Jewkes; Editing by David Goodman and Elaine Hardcastle