* AXA, EDF, CDC, Enagas lead four chosen consortia
* Final decision expected around mid-January
* Total may initially keep a stake of between 5 and 10 pct
* Plans to shed 15-20 bln euros of assets by 2014
* Total CEO confirms received seven bids overall
(Adds Total CEO comment)
By Sophie Sassard and Matthieu Protard
LONDON/PARIS, Nov 23 French oil company Total
has chosen four bidders for its TIGF gas network and
storage business in southwest France, worth an estimated 2.5
billion euros ($3.2 billion), three sources familiar with the
French insurer AXA's private-equity arm, EDF's
nuclear fund, French state bank Caisse des Depots (CDC)
and Spanish utility Enagas lead four consortia which
will take part in a second round of the auction, the sources
Total Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie confirmed on
the sidelines of an event in Paris on Friday that the group had
received seven bids for TIGF, but he declined to make any
Total is expected to decide on the new owner for the
business around mid-January, the sources said.
The winning bidder will need to have an existing French
presence and Total may initially keep a stake of between 5 and
10 percent for social and political reasons, one of the people
"It will be tough for non-French candidates," a banking
The transaction, given TIGF's public-service role, has
attracted the scrutiny of the French government, which is keen
to protect jobs as unemployment rises to 13-year highs.
Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg said on Thursday the
government wanted to safeguard TIGF's strength, profitability
and employment levels.
Total, which was recently overtaken as France's biggest
company by market value by drugmaker Sanofi, plans to
shed 15 billion to 20 billion euros worth of assets by 2014.
Large oil and gas firms have been disposing of low-margin
transportation, storage, refining and distribution units to
focus on their riskier and more lucrative exploration and
production, or "upstream", activities.
Total finance chief Patrick de la Chevardiere said at the
end of last month the group was working on several disposals and
he hoped to have news on some large asset sales by the beginning
AXA Private Equity is bidding for TIGF along with Credit
Agricole's Predica insurance unit and the Abu Dhabi
Investment Authority, while CDC has joined with Belgian gas
The EDF grouping includes Singapore's GIC sovereign
wealth fund and Italian gas transport group Snam.
Enagas has formed a consortium with Canadian fund Borealis.
Total plans to open "data rooms" containing details of the
assets being sold to the four chosen bidders this weekend.
Goldman Sachs and Lazard are advising Total on
the deal, sources told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Benjamin Mallet; Writing by James
Regan; Editing by Jason Neely and David Holmes)