September 28, 2017 / 8:19 PM / 18 days ago

French PM says would closely watch any attempt to change L'Oreal ownership

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe delivers a speech to open a transport mobility forum in Paris, France, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s prime minister said on Thursday he would look very carefully at any attempted ownership change at L‘Oreal especially if an international investor sought to buy the world’s biggest cosmetics firm.

The death of billionaire Liliane Bettencourt on Sept. 21 has focused attention on how L‘Oreal’s founding family and major shareholder Nestle (NESN.S) would manage their stakes in the company.

Bettencourt’s family owns 33 percent of L‘Oreal. Relatives including her daughter have managed the stake for several years since a court found she was suffering from a form of dementia.

Nestle retains a 23 percent stake in the company. It has said it has no intention to sell its stake.

“We will be attentive,” Edouard Philippe told France 2 television when asked how he would react if the company were to be subject to an overseas bid.

“I don’t know if it can be described as a strategic asset,” he said. “Without a doubt it’s an extremely important asset so I will be very mindful.”

In the wake of Bettencourt’s death, a 43-year-old agreement between the family and Nestle not to increase their stakes will expire after six months. There were no restrictions on reducing the stakes.

Bettencourt’s only daughter, Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, who sits on L‘Oreal’s board with her husband and one son, has said the family remained committed to L‘Oreal and its management.

Reporting by John Irish and Jean-Baptiste Vey; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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