La Caixa's share exceeds 5% of Telefónica by standards

La Caixa's share exceeds 5% of Telefónica by standards

radical change. Criteria, the main shareholder of CaixaBank and the investment arm of Fundació La Caixa, has almost doubled its stake in Telefónica, to 5.007%, a stake it has not reached since 2004, and will consolidate itself as one of its major shareholders. At current prices, the holding of Telefónica, 2.31%, is worth around 528 million euros on the market. This move comes at the same time as CaixaBank reduces its weight in the capital of the operator, in which it owns 2.51%, and after entering the country.

The operation, announced yesterday by the group headed by Isidre Faini and with Angel Simon as CEO, reinforces the strategy of concentrating the stake in the telecom operator of Criteria, which is gaining titles on the market and which until today owned 2.69%.

All of this comes after the state invested in the capital, Telefonica, by 3.04% in a move announced on Thursday, with the aim of being the first shareholder and neutralizing the entry of the Saudi Telecom Company by 9.9%. The Council of Ministers approved this step last December, and authorized the public company SEPI to purchase a share of up to 10% of the company, to protect it, considering it strategic because of its connection to national security and defense.

The aim is to create a stable shareholding core in which, in addition to Criteria, which has expressed its intention to contribute to “shareholder stability”, the other historical partner, BBVA, owns 4,839%, according to financial sources. In addition, there are also shareholders: Morgan Stanley, with 12.17%, and BlackRock, with 4.983%.

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More holding, less bank

The central government defends that, unlike Spain, where the complete privatization of Telefónica took place, which began with CEO Felipe González (PSOE) and ended with José María Aznar (PP), other EU countries chose to retain their stakes in large national operators and other companies. It is considered strategic. Germany owns 30% of Deutsche Telekom; France, 13.4% of Orange and controls the electricity company EDF; Italy wants to reach 20% in Telecom Italia, which is a shareholder in the electricity company Enel.

In parallel with the increase in Criteria's stake, CaixaBank is reducing it. A few days ago, it decreased from 3.51% to 2.51%. At Telefónica's next shareholders' meeting, scheduled for April 12, the renewal of Criteria Caixa's president, Isidre Fainé, as director of Criteria will be voted on on Sunday, rather than doing so on behalf of CaixaBank, as he has done so far.

This process is in line with the investment policy of CriteriaCaixa, which is characterized by the effective and prudent management of its investment portfolio, and which focuses on companies with an attractive dividend policy, such as Telefónica, which allows them to finance the social work of the La Caixa Foundation. In 2023, CriteriaCaixa received €42 million in dividends from Telefónica, according to La Caixa.

For Criteria, its stake in Telefónica “has a strategic and long-term nature,” and for this reason, one of its goals is to provide the company with “the greatest amount of stability for shareholders.” La Caixa's relationship with Telefónica goes back to 1987, when the then savings bank first invested in the operator by purchasing a 2.5% stake. In 1996 it reached 5% for the first time, then it was reduced to 3.6% in 2000, due to various capital increases made by Telefónica to finance its international expansion. In 2004, it regained its share above 5%. Although La Caixa initially acquired the investment in 2007, the stake became part of Criteria CaixaCorp's periphery, as part of the company's pre-IPO reorganization.

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In 2011, with the conversion of CaixaBank's IPO, the bank acquired a historic stake in Telefónica. Since 2017, CriteriaCaixa has built a direct position through market purchases, which after the operation announced yesterday reached 5.007%.

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