SAS Denies Qatar Airways Takeover Talks

January 10, 2012

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SAS said on Tuesday it was not in talks for a possible takeover by Qatar Airways, after a newspaper report about a deal sent the Scandinavian airline's shares soaring.

SAS shares were up 17 percent at one point in Stockholm after Norwegian paper Dagens Naringsliv quoted Ole Kirchert Christensen, chief executive of consultancy Travelbroker, saying the two airlines were a perfect fit.

"There are no discussions ongoing with Qatar Airways about a purchase of SAS," SAS spokesman Anders Lindstrom said.

Qatar Airways declined to comment.

SAS has been struggling for years against overcapacity, cut-price rivals and a fleet of old planes, and has long been seen as unlikely to survive alone in the long term.

A series of turnaround plans over the last few years have aimed to put it in shape to attract a buyer.

At the end of 2010, German airline Lufthansa was hotly tipped to be preparing a bid for SAS, but that came to nothing.

Norway, Sweden and Denmark, who together own 50 percent of SAS, have all said they are willing to sell. But with the airline still struggling and the global outlook bleak, the time may not be right.

Jacob Pedersen, analyst at Sydbank, said SAS had been surrounded by takeover speculation for years without anything happening. "I really don't think anything is going to happen short-term, either," he said.

He said interest from Qatar was most likely speculation.

"It's possible, but then everything is possible. Lufthansa could do the same, and other companies are also a good fit with SAS," he said.

SAS has not made a full-year profit since 2007 and has only been in the black three times in the last 10 years.

It has targeted a return to profit in 2011, but deepening gloom in the airline industry due to high oil prices forced SAS's chief executive Rickard Gustafson to warn in November that any profit would be small.