By Eyk Henning, Jan Hromadko and Jessica Hodgson
German utility E.ON AG (>> E.ON AG) will pick a buyer for its gas distribution network Open Grid Europe in mid-May after four consortia submit binding bids by next Wednesday in a deal valued at up to around EUR3 billion, several people familiar with the matter told Dow Jones Newswires.
One source said the executive board would pick a buyer May 15, but that the deal would need the okay by the supervisory board thereafter. Another source said that E.ON has finished negotiations with the suitors and that some of the bidders still need some time to get green light from their investment committees.
An E.On spokesman declined comment.
The bidders include a consortium of French utility GdF Suez (>> GDF SUEZ), French insurer CNP Assurances (>> CNP ASSURANCES) and IFM Australian Infrastructure as well as a team around Belgium's Fluxys SA (>> FLUXYS CAT.D) and General Infrastructure Partners. Another consortium is made up of Macquarie's infrastructure funds, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and British Columbian Investment Management Corporation.
One of the consortia includes state-owned Dutch utility Gasunie, which is teaming up with Allianz SE's (>> Allianz SE) investment arm Allianz Capital Partners and the pension fund Canada Pension Plan. While some sources have suggested Gasunie's status could be in doubt following the turnover of the Dutch government, one of the people said Gasunie is still in and that financing is in place.
A spokesman for the Dutch ministry of Economic Affairs declined to comment.
The planned sale of Open Grid Europe is part of a broader disposal program under which E.ON plans to sell EUR15 billion worth in assets by the end of 2013. E.ON has said it plans to use the proceeds from the disposals to reduce debt and for reinvestment in emerging markets in a move to reduce dependence on European countries. So far, E.On assets worth over EUR9 billion have been sold.
The assets have commanded strong interest because they include Germany's largest gas distribution network with 12,000 kilometers of pipelines and serve as a link between Eastern and Western Europe. German rival RWE AG (>> RWE AG) last year sold its 4,100-kilometer pipeline network for around EUR500 million.
-By Jan Hromadko, Eyk Henning and Jessica Hodgson, Dow Jones Newswires,
(Patrick Buis contributed to this article)