* National Grid sells 61 pct stake to Macquarie-led
* Deal values asset at 13.8 bln pounds
* National Grid to pay shareholders proceeds of 4 bln pounds
(Recasts, adds CEO, analyst comments, updates share price)
By Karolin Schaps and Susanna Twidale
LONDON, Dec 8 Britain's National Grid has
sold a majority stake in its gas network in a 5.4 billion pound
($7 billion) deal which could test Prime Minister Theresa May's
pledge to vet infrastructure sales to foreign buyers.
The FTSE 100-listed group said on Thursday that a consortium
led by Australian investment bank Macquarie and which includes
Chinese and Qatari state investors, had bought a 61 percent
stake in the gas pipe arm, valued at a total 13.8 billion
pounds, which serves nearly 11 million households and businesses
Since taking office, May has been keen to state that Britain
remains open for business following the vote to leave the EU.
But she has also said the government should be able to step in
to defend a key sector from foreign ownership.
May in September gave the go-ahead for the $24 billion
Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant after weeks of uncertainty
over security concerns that had strained ties with China, which
will help pay for it, and France, which will build
CIC Capital Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of
China's sovereign wealth fund, is part of the consortium buying
the stake in National Grid's asset.
"CIC already have holdings in Heathrow Airport and Thames
Water, they're well known in the UK infrastructure market today.
There are absolutely no concerns," National Grid Chief Executive
John Pettigrew told Reuters.
The deal comes just weeks after Britain's second-largest
energy supplier SSE sold a minority stake in its own gas
distribution network to Abu Dhabi Investment Authority for 621
National Grid said it will pay out most of the proceeds, or
4 billion pounds, to its shareholders. It will pay at least 75
percent of this in a special dividend in the second quarter of
2017, it said.
For the network operator the dilution of its British gas
asset means its U.S. business grows in importance.
"The bigger point is that National Grid is rotating towards
America, where it has previously highlighted it sees stronger
growth," said Roshan Patel, utilities analyst at Investec.
Hermes Investment Management, which is one of the other
consortium partners along with Allianz Capital Partners, Qatar
Investment Authority, Dalmore Capital and Amber Infrastructure,
said it was attracted to the investment for its high level of
cash yield and inflation-linked revenues.
The parties said they had also agreed the consortium could
buy an extra 14 percent stake in the gas distribution asset
under broadly the same terms at a later stage.
Shares in National Grid shares were trading up 1 percent by
National Grid was advised by Morgan Stanley, Robey Warshaw,
Barclays and Linklaters. RBC Capital Markets, Macquarie Capital
and Clifford Chance advised the buyers.
($1 = 0.7890 pounds)
(Additional reporting by Simon Jessop and Pamela Barbaglia;
editing by Lina Saigol and Susan Thomas)