January 4, 2018 / 3:32 PM / 16 days ago

UPDATE 1-Finland gives up control of Neste as stake drops below 50 pct

(Adds govt plan to trim stake, analyst comment, share data)

HELSINKI, Jan 4 (Reuters) - Finland on Thursday effectively gave up control of oil refiner Neste by donating shares to a charitable foundation and the government may cut its stake further.

The state donated shares worth 50 million euros ($60 million) to a Finnish foundation that promotes the wellbeing of children, reducing the state’s Neste holding to 49.7 percent from 50.1 percent, the government said in a statement.

The centre-right government last year got the parliament’s mandate to cut the Neste stake to 33.4 percent as it seeks funds for potential investments in new growth companies.

But this prompted protests from employee groups who were worried that such a move could put Neste’s Finnish jobs at risk.

The government has not made a decision about the sale of the 16 percent stake, but a new state-owned company which will handle those shares began operation this week.

“No one knows when it would happen, but the assumption is that the shares will be sold, mainly to institutional investors... That would improve liquidity of the stock,” Henri Parkkinen, analyst at OP Equities, said.

He said that stakes of that size were usually placed in the market at a small discount.

Neste’s share price has climbed 48 percent in the past year on the back of the company’s profit growth. The stock fell 1.6 percent on Thursday.

Neste last month picked Singapore over United States as the site for its planned new biofuel plant. It currently has biofuel plants in Singapore and Rotterdam, and two conventional refineries in Finland.

$1 = 0.8290 euros Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl, editing by Terje Solsvik and Jane Merriman

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