Top Naturgy Shareholder Vows to Keep it Spanish Amid IFM Bid

Naturgy Energy Group SA’s biggest shareholder will increase its stake in the Spanish utility to prevent foreign investors taking control of a vital part of the country’s infrastructure.

Criteria Caixa, which manages the investments for Barcelona-based CaixaBank SA Foundation, will boost its 25% stake in Naturgy to keep the company listed in Spain and to ensure the country’s energy security, it said in a statement. The firm’s holding won’t exceed 30%, it said, which is the threshold that would trigger a full takeover bid under Spanish rules.

Australian asset manager IFM Global Infrastructure earlier this year offered 5 billion euros ($6 billion) for a 22.7% stake in Naturgy in an unsolicited bid. The Spanish government, which has a veto option on the deal, is leaning toward blocking the transaction as it would mean potentially handing over control of a leading utility that’s deemed a strategic asset.

Naturgy rose as much as 1.5% in Madrid Tuesday. The shares are up 15% this year.

Two other major shareholders that own about 21% each, private-equity firms Global Infrastructure Partners and CVC Capital Partners, have said they won’t sell but haven’t publicly opposed the deal.

Criteria Caixa’s decision to increase its stake in Madrid-based Naturgy is in line with the firm’s management of its portfolio, according to the statement. The holding company’s investments also include stakes in companies such as Telefonica SA and Cellnex Telecom SA.

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