* SCA sells stake in biggest owner, Industrivarden
* Move may herald stake sales by Handelsbanken
* Handelsbanken owns stakes in Industrivarden, SCA (Adds banker and investor comment, background)
By Sven Nordenstam
STOCKHOLM, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Hygiene products maker SCA has sold its stake in its biggest owner, Industrivarden, in what may herald a dismantling of the cross-holdings that concentrated power on a small group of businessmen tied to one of Sweden’s top investment companies.
The move follows a power struggle at Industrivarden in the wake of a spending scandal at SCA, which saw Swedish real estate magnate Fredrik Lundberg take over as chairman at the investment firm.
The cross-holdings between some of Industrivarden’s companies, which include Handelsbanken, Volvo and Ericsson, have been criticised by Swedish pension funds for creating an opaque structure that limited outside influence.
“I believe there is a rather strong signal in this happening,” said a senior banker, who has done business with Industrivarden companies.
“There may very well be changes to the ownership positions of Handelsbanken,” the banker added, declining to be named.
Handelsbanken is the third-largest shareholder of Industrivarden, with a 6.8 percent stake. The investment group is in turn the bank’s second-largest shareholder. Handelsbanken is also the second-biggest SCA shareholder, with a stake of 2.9 percent.
Lundberg’s revamp of the Industrivarden group should lead to increasingly dynamic governance approach, with more diverse boards and management as more people become involved in selecting them, the banker said.
Since Lundberg took control, Industrivarden and its firms have begun looking outside their own ranks for new managers.
In August, engineering firm Sandvik picked Bjorn Rosengren as CEO, a former top chief at companies where the Wallenberg family’s investment vehicle Investor AB, has large stakes.
The same month, Industrivarden picked its first female CEO, private equity executive Helena Stjernholm.
SCA said in a statement on Tuesday it had sold its 2.8 percent Industrivarden holding to Swedish institutions and investors for 169 crowns per share, equalling 2 billion crowns ($234 million).
“We have had these shares for quite some time and we thought this was a suitable time to sell them,” SCA CEO Magnus Groth told Reuters.
However, SCA’s pension funds retain their ownership in Industrivarden, representing a total of 7.9 percent of its shares.
“In general we see it as positive when there isn’t cross-ownership,” said Ossian Ekdahl, head of communications and environmental, social and governance issues at Sweden’s First National Pension Fund, which owns 0.9 percent of SCA shares.
Lundberg’s holding company, Lundbergforetagen, said separately it had purchased 5 million Industrivarden shares. ($1 = 8.5311 Swedish crowns) (Additional reporting by Anna Ringstrom and Johan Ahlander; editing by Niklas Pollard and Louise Heavens)