February 6, 2018 / 8:10 PM / in 10 months

UPDATE 1-Takeover-target Abertis's CEO leaves for Gas Natural chairman job

(Adds details, background)

MADRID, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Gas Natural’s board named Abertis Chief Executive Francisco Reynes on Tuesday as chairman of the Spanish energy giant to replace Isidro Faine, in a major leadership reshuffle of Faine’s business empire.

Reynes leaves toll-road operator Abertis just as it is at the centre of a 17 billion euro ($21 billion) takeover battle.

German builder Hochtief, majority-owned by Spanish builder ACS, is battling with Italian airports and motorway operator Atlantia to take it over.

Abertis and Gas Natural gave no reason for the personnel changes, announced just before both companies report full-year results on Wednesday.

Faine, 76, is chairman of Criteria, which owns direct or indirect stakes in Abertis, Gas Natural, Repsol, Caixabank and Telefonica. He took over as Gas Natural’s chairman a year and a half ago and the company said on Tuesday in a statement that it had named him honorary chairman.

Abertis said in a separate statement it would replace Reynes with current Chief Financial Officer Jose Aljaro. Gas Natural’s shareholders will have to ratify the change at their next meeting, which will likely take place in April.

Reynes takes over as Europe’s energy sector is expected to enter a period of consolidation as utilities seek to gain scale and shift their revenue streams towards renewables to protect profits from steep competition and narrower margins.

Reuters reported last year that Gas Natural had approached Portuguese rival EDP about merging to form Europe’s fourth biggest utility by market value.

Abertis builds and maintains highways in Spain, France, Latin America and the United States. It also has a telecommunications division that manages and operates satellite infrastructure.

Hochtief secured unconditional EU antitrust approval on Tuesday for its bid to buy Abertis. Abertis shareholders will have the final say on who will buy the company. (Reporting by Angus Berwick and Andres Gonzalez; Editing by Adrian Croft)

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