Four Parties Looking at Asciano

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Debt-laden Australian ports operator Asciano Group Ltd (AIO.AX) said on Monday four parties were in talks to bid for the whole group, but warned that any offer might not be pitched above its share price.

“It should not be assumed that any of these discussions will result in a transaction or that if a change of control and/or recapitalisation transaction were to occur that it would be priced at a premium to recently traded prices in Asciano’s securities,” it said in response to a stock exchange query, after its shares jumped 27 percent last Friday.

Australia’s biggest ports and rail group also refuted a report that said its bankers were willing to extend its working capital and loan guarantees for only two months.

The group has been looking to sell part of its ports and rail businesses or the whole company for several months to help pay down A$4.6 billion ($3.5 billion) in bank debt, and most recently said it hoped to identify a buyer or buyers by June 30.

The Australian Financial Review last week reported that only two serious parties were bidding for the group, private equity groups TPG Capital [TPG.UL] and The Carlyle Group [CYL.UL].

The newspaper also said members of Asciano’s banking syndicate were treating the group as a “workout” case and would only roll over its facilities for a maximum of two months.

“Asciano advises that these assertions are factually incorrect and have no basis or substance whatsoever,” the company said in a statement.

It said it was “now involved in continuing confidential discussions with four bidders” on a full takeover or recapitalisation of the group, and was also in talks with “some parties” looking at one or more of its operating units.

Asciano’s shares closed last Friday at A$1.81. ($1=A$1.30) (Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Jonathan Standing)