* Shares trim gains after Accor distances itself from report
By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Accor, Europe's largest hotel group, said on Monday it had no plans to split its property assets from its hotel management business but may separate reporting lines for the two activities to boost efficiency.
In an emailed statement to Reuters, Accor distanced itself from a report in Les Echos newspaper on Monday that said its largest shareholder, Colony Capital, wanted the French hotel group to consider spinning off of its property assets to unlock more value.
Accor shares, which had risen nearly 2 percent in morning trade on the Les Echos report, gave back most of their gains after Accor issued the clarification and were up 0.4 percent at 20.81 euros by 1106 GMT.
"The issue of separating the legal or corporate structure of the hotel management business from the property business is not on the agenda," said Accor.
"However, among the changes being weighed to its reporting structure, the company is considering better identifying the property portion from the operating activity, with the sole goal of improving efficiency."
Les Echos had said, without citing its sources, that Sebastien Bazin, the European head of Colony, brought up at Accor's board meeting in December the proposed real estate deal, which would separate the ownership of the hotel buildings from their operations.
The goal of such a transaction would be to unlock the value of the hotels, which the paper put at 3.7 billion euros ($4.69 billion), compared to the overall market capitalisation of Accor at Friday's close of 4.7 billion euros.
But Chief Executive Denis Hennequin was not eager to carry out such a deal and had sought to reassure employee representatives who expressed concern over the real estate idea.
"In any case, if we were to do it, now is not the right time," the CEO was quoted as saying.
Colony declined to comment on the Les Echos report.
Colony, which is also a major shareholder at Carrefour , had pushed without success for a similar real estate strategy at the retail giant. .
Colony, together with other key shareholder Eurazeo, controls four of Accor's board seats.
The duo have been active shareholders over the years.
Accor, at the urging of Colony and Eurazeo, separated its hotels, which range from luxury brand Sofitel to budget Ibis, from its pre-paid services unit by creating Edenred, which was listed in July 2010.
Hennequin took over at Accor a year ago after the duo ousted his predecessor Gilles Pelisson because of concerns about the group's underperformance.
Despite the management shake-up, Accor's shares lost 45 percent of their value in 2011.
Accor has been selling non-core assets to raise cash and cut debt and has shifted towards a less cash-consuming business model, increasing the number of hotels operated under franchise deals or variable-rent leases.
The shift, initiated by Pelisson, accelerated under Hennequin's tenure.
His recent strategic initiatives aimed at creating value also include the re-launch of its economy hotels business under the Ibis brand, which is the biggest earner in the group.
"In our view, the group's future clearly lies in the development of its networks and its brands. What Hennequin is doing can make the difference and it's urgent to focus on these issues," said CM-CIC analyst Annick Thevenon.
The fourth-largest hotel group behind the InterContinental , Marriott and Starwood Hotels will unveil its fourth quarter sales on Jan. 17
Colony Capital said on Jan. 12 that it had reduced its holdings in Accor to 11.22 percent and Edenred to 11.29 percent respectively after derivatives financing contracts matured.
Together with Eurazeo, they own 21.37 percent of Accor's capital and 27.51 percent of its voting rights.
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