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Total shares steady, after fall on death of CEO

AFP , Tuesday 21 Oct 2014
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Shares in French oil major Total fell sharply in initial trading on Tuesday, but then steadied for a loss of 0.21 percent following the sudden death of chief executive Christophe de Margerie.

Total is the second-biggest company by market value on the Paris stock market, a leading oil group in global terms, and one of the top names in French industry.

With attention turning immediately to who would succeed De Margerie, a major figure in French industry and in the world oil industry, the group announced early on Tuesday that its board would meet as soon as possible.

The death overnight of De Margerie, aged 63, shocked business and investment circles, but the shares rallied after an initial fall of about 2.0 percent.

Within an hour of the market opening, Total shares were down 0.21 percent to 42.85 euros, and the main overall CAC 40 index in Paris was down 0.21 percent, having shed 0.56 percent initially.

At RBC Capital Markets, analysts had expected the share to fall owing to the driving role played by De Margerie in the company.

He was one of the "central figures" of the oil industry and "the loss is going to be felt profoundly within Total", they said. But they did not expect any changes or uncertainty regarding daily management of the group.

Political leaders reacted with praise for the way De Margerie had expanded Total's activities around the globe, while in investment circles much attention was focused already on who would be chosen to succeed him.

One trader in Paris who declined to be named said that "this death will raise the question of the appointment of a successor" and the new chief executive would most probably be drawn from the existing members of the main board.

In France, however, the company has also been the target of criticism in recent years, most recently over objections that its tax bill is unduly low.

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin, said on Europe One radio in France that De Margerie was "the head of the biggest French company of international repute" and that he was "truly a great business leader".

Of Total, Sapin said: "It is a French company which has chosen to stay based in France and which drew its strength, as he used to say, from the fact of being French".

Sapin said: "He was one of the best fighters against 'French bashing', which he could not tolerate".

The minister was referring to widespread criticism of the state of the French economy.

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