A large part of Arcandor’s 53 per cent stake in Thomas Cook, the UK travel group, could be sold to institutional investors as early as next month as creditor banks of the insolvent German retailer try to claw back their loans.
Two people close to the banking consortium said a share placing “theoretically still in September” was the more likely of options being considered by the group, led by Royal Bank of Scotland, Commerzbank and Bayern LB.
However, they stressed that the lead trio of banks were also still trawling for potential strategic buyers for the lenders’ 44 per cent stake – part of the “two track” sales process the institutions announced at the end of July.
“It looks as if there are some offers coming in from strategic investors,” said one person familiar with the process. “But given the potential ease and speed of a share placement, it is the preferred option at the moment.”
The people close to the process declined to name any potential buyers the banks were talking to, while Arcandor and Thomas Cook declined to comment on any part of the sales process.
The stake fell to the banks in June when Arcandor filed for insolvency. The retailer had pledged 44 per cent of Thomas Cook as security for a €1bn (£853m) loan, having earmarked the remainder for buyers of a convertible bond.
The banks’ share in Europe’s second-biggest travel company is currently worth about £790m and many members of the consortium were said to be keen to sell in order to replenish battered balance sheets.
Arcandor went bankrupt after failing to win German government backing for a state credit guarantee and last week signalled that it was ready to break itself up after failing to win new investors to keep it in one piece.
The retail group’s insolvency administrator said he had switched to looking for separate investors to buy Arcandor’s two other units, the Primondo mail-order business and Karstadt, the German department store chain.
The move followed an announcement by the banks in July that they would seek to sell their Thomas Cook stake, either to strategic or institutional investors – a blow to Arcandor, which had hoped to emerge from bankruptcy intact.
People familiar with the sale of the stake said that the banks did not feel under pressure to sell, although the process was likely to conclude this autumn, regardless of whether a share placing or straight sale ensued.
They added that the banks would look at any offers from strategic buyers and could then decide quickly which path to pursue.
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