* Group has criticised company strategy
* Bigger stake gives it right to call for general meetings
* Opposes CEZ financing all of Czech nuclear expansion (Adds CEZ comment)
By Petra Vodstrcilova
PRAGUE, Jan 3 (Reuters) - A group of minority shareholders in Czech power utility CEZ that is critical of company strategy has built a more than 1 percent stake, giving it the ability to more aggressively defend its interests, a representative of the group said.
Michal Snobr, an investor and long-time critic of CEZ’s management and policies, told an investor conference on Wednesday that the group had reached qualified shareholder status, which allows it to call for general meetings and gives it other rights.
The group criticised a cut in CEZ’s dividend payout last year and is opposed to CEZ financing on its own the Czech Republic’s plans to expand its nuclear power capacity.
The country is debating how to fund nuclear power expansion but the government has so far refused to provide any support to 70 percent state-owned CEZ, such as price guarantees, for the construction of reactors.
New Prime Minister Andrej Babis has said CEZ itself could finance the expansion, an option opposed by Snobr.
“In the position of a qualified shareholder we will have enough tools to defend against such things,” Snobr said.
CTK news agency reported that the group would seek an extraordinary general meeting in the first half of this year, before the annual general meeting, to address the issue of financing nuclear power expansion.
“Every shareholder has a right under law... to defend their interests,” CEZ spokesman Ladislav Kriz said.
CEZ last year cut its dividend payout, although Snobr said CEZ had a high cashflow and could have maintained its dividend at past levels.
CEZ shares have risen 17.7 percent in the past year to around two-year highs as investors see it benefiting in the coming years from a recovery in power prices.
Wholesale power prices have rebounded in recent months, but CEZ has not yet benefited as it hedges future sales.
The company has forecast full-year profit will fall to 19 billion crowns ($893 million) in 2017, from 19.6 billion in 2016. ($1 = 21.2690 Czech crowns) (Reporting by Petra Vodstrcilova, Writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Michael Kahn and Susan Fenton)