© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Uniper logo is seen at the utility’s firm headquarters in Duesseldorf, Germany, July 8, 2022. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/File Photo
By Tom Käckenhoff, Christoph Steitz and John O’Donnell
DUESSELDORF/FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Germany is preparing to test investor interest in a stake of up to 30% in Uniper as the government seeks to recoup some of the billions it spent bailing out the utility at the height of the energy crisis, three people familiar with the matter said.
Berlin rescued Uniper in 2022 after main supplier Russia stopped delivering gas in retaliation for Western sanctions over Moscow’s war in Ukraine. The move has cost the government 13.5 billion euros ($14.5 billion) to date and left it with a 99.12% stake in the firm.
Amid calmer energy markets, Germany now wants to start unwinding that process, not least to free up money for the federal budget.
Berlin’s move to cut its stake to 70%-80% via a stock market share sale next year could include asking strategic investors to buy some of the shares, the people said, adding the process was at an early stage and may still change or be delayed.
The government’s stake is currently worth 23.2 billion euros based on Uniper’s market value, with sources previously saying any sale would likely happen at a discount.
Uniper and the finance ministry declined to comment, both pointing to European Union requirements for Berlin to cut its stake to a maximum of 25% plus one share by 2028.
Harald Seegatz, who heads Uniper’s works council and is deputy chairman of the group’s supervisory board, called on Berlin to remain a long-term anchor shareholder of the group as a way to remain in control of strategic energy assets.
“The state would do well not to leave the security of supply completely in the hands of others,” Seegatz told Reuters, citing Finland and France, where the government is a key shareholder in the largest utilities.
He also said Berlin remaining a shareholder would protect Uniper from a potential takeover or break-up, and secure jobs.
The sources also said a long-term commitment by Berlin was required for Uniper to keep its investment grade credit rating that it depends on to fund its day-to-day operations.
Brussels also told Uniper to sell several assets, including the group’s state-of-the-art Datteln coal-fired power plants, in exchange for granting approval of the bail-out, requirements that Seegatz said were “painful”.
“We are losing large parts of our portfolio as…