Three Alitalia Bidders Move To Next Round

May 14, 2007

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All three shortlisted bidders in the auction for Alitalia have made it to the next round after an assessment of their preliminary offers to buy the unprofitable airline, the Italian Treasury said on Monday.

The three -- Russian airline Aeroflot, a US private equity consortium led by TPG; formerly known as Texas Pacific Group, and smaller Italian carrier Air One -- are to present binding offers by the end of June.

They will be allowed into a so-called "data room" that gives them access to information on the airline's financial books, starting May 24.

That all three bidders remain is seen as a boost to the efforts of the Italian government -- which owns a 49.9 percent stake -- to secure a buyer for an airline that loses over a EUR1 million euros (USD$1.3 million) a day and struggles with frequent strikes.

Italian media had speculated that US private equity firm TPG could drop out of the process after the government last week barred any new entrants from joining existing bidding consortiums in the fray.

The Italian government is looking to sell at least 39.9 percent of the airline in an effort to turn it around, and has has set out a list of restrictions on what a buyer can do, including maintaining the "Italianness" of the airline.

Italy's transport minister has said any successful bidders must spend at least EUR1.5 billion (USD$2 billion) to buy the airline and invest another EUR1.5 billion after that.

But Air One chief, Carlo Toto, has said EUR5 billion is only about one-half of the total investment needed for the struggling airline.

Earlier Monday, Industry Minister Pierluigi Bersani denied the government had any favorite candidate, following speculation that Air One, the only Italian-led group in the fray, had the government's blessings.

(Reuters)