September 17, 2012 / 9:38 AM / 5 years ago

Credit Agricole may take Veolia Transdev stake -report

PARIS, Sept 17 (Reuters) - French bank Credit Agricole may step in to buy part of Veolia Transdev, the transport joint venture in which utility Veolia Environnement is seeking to sell its 50 percent stake as part of a restructuring, La Lettre de l‘Expansion said.

The move by Credit Agricole could unblock stalled negotiations between Veolia and its venture partner, state bank Caisse des Depots et Consignations (CDC), over the future of the business, the French publication reported on Monday.

Veolia declined to comment, while Credit Agricole and CDC were not immediately available to comment.

Veolia’s planned exit from its transport activities has turned out to be a thorny matter due to disagreements with CDC over strategy. Veolia said in August that an exit could take place in 2013 rather than this year.

The bank could take, in a first step, about 20 percent from Veolia, and CDC could increase its stake by converting debt, the weekly said, without citing its sources.

Veolia took a provision of 83 million euros ($109 million) in its first-half earnings tied to loss-making Veolia Transdev. CDC vetoed a bid by Natixis’ infrastructure fund Cube as being too low and disagreed with the fund’s plans to sell Veolia Transdev’s international operations.

Veolia Chief Executive Antoine Frerot aims to sell assets worth 5 billion euros by 2013 to cut debt and make the complex group leaner, undoing an expansion spree under ex-head Henri Proglio, who now leads utility EDF.

Frerot announced plans to gradually quit transport in December, only nine months after the Veolia Transdev merger was closed.

Veolia Transdev makes more than 60 percent of its revenue - which reached 7.9 billion euros in 2011 - in France. The unit’s operating income last year fell 76.3 percent to 47.2 million euros. Analysts estimate its debt at around 900 million.

Its chief competitors are RATP and Keolis, a unit of railway operator SNCF, French state-owned transport groups which have also been reported to be interested in buying certain group assets. ($1 = 0.7606 euros) (Reporting by Caroline Jacobs and Benjamin Mallet; Additional reporting by Christian Plumb; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford)

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