Friday, October 29, 2010

Cairn Energy shareholders approve Vedanta deal

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London October 8, 2010

Shareholders in oil explorer Cairn Energy Plc today approved plans to sell the bulk of the company's stake in Cairn India to London-listed mining company Vedanta Resources Plc for up to $8.48 billion.

About 99 per cent of all the shareholders unanimously approved the sale of 40 to 51 per cent stake in Cairn India to Vedanta Group, a spokesperson at Cairn Energy said. “We are pleased that Cairn Energy shareholders have approved the proposed transaction with Vedanta. This is an important step in the process towards completion (of the deal),” he said.

But the Cairn-Vedanta deal is far from conclusion. Besides seeking its shareholders’ approval before

October 30, Vedanta Group will have to complete the Indian open offer for the transaction to reach its logical ends.

Vedanta Group is yet to get the Securities and Exchange Board of India's (Sebi’s) nod for making an open offer to minority shareholders of Cairn India, as the market regulator awaits the government to clear the deal first.

While Vedanta is acquiring 40 to 51 per cent stake in Cairn India at Rs 405 per share, Sesa Goa, its subsidiary has applied for approval to make an open offer for an additional 20 per cent in Cairn India at Rs 355 per share.

Meanwhile, petroleum secretary S Sundareshan today said the government would take a call on Cairn Energy’s stake sale to Vedanta Resources by the end of this calendar year.

“The production sharing contracts require detailed examination, so we will into production-sharing contracts carefully and take the view with regard to granting the permission," he said, adding that the decision would come "sooner than later, hopefully within the next couple of months, by the year-end."

The deal would also be subject to Vedanta qualifying as a technically competent company to own and run Cairn India, according to Indian government officials.

“The issue has not been considered by the Indian government till now at all and all the focus has been on the applications given to us by Cairn Energy. One of the grounds for granting the permission is that the new party should have sufficient technical expertise,” Sundareshan said. “This will be examined when we take a final decision. I would like to make it very clear that I have no comment to offer on either the experience or the inexperience of the potential buyer. We have not made up our mind either way.”

Another Indian official said he didn't think ONGC had plans to preempt the stake sale, after ONGC said in September it was "not passive" to the deal and trade minister Anand Sharma said in August the company should have a say in the transaction.

“I don’t think the ONGC board has seriously considered the idea of a counter-offer,” Sundareshan said. “It is the question of money involved, it is a very large investment,” he said while responding to a question whether the ONGC was planning a counter-offer to Cairn Energy.

Senior officials from the oil ministry are visiting London along with oil minister Murli Deora for a curtain raiser event in London for the ninth round of New Exploration and Licensing Policy, which proposes to offer 35 new blocks. Officials said nearly 60 per cent of the blocks offered this time were fresh ones and not recycled ones as it was done in the eighth round.

The eighth round, which saw 70 blocks being offered, managed to sell only half of what was offered. With better seismic data in hand this time, ministry officials hope to find more buyers this time. Apart from the UK, officials will be visiting Russia as well and one of the visiting officials said the offer to Russia came after a gap of two years.

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