Thomas Cook Group has declined to comment on consumer media speculation over its future which intensified over the weekend.
Reports first suggested that a review of the group’s airline had unlocked interest from possible bidders for part or all of Thomas Cook.
Chinese conglomerate Fosun International was then tipped as a bidder for part of Thomas Cook after raising its stake to own almost a fifth of the company.
Club Med owner Fosun has been increasing its shareholding in Thomas Cook since the start of the year and has a stake of just over 17% worth about £64 million.
It means that Fosun has overtaken the fund manager Invesco to become the biggest shareholder in the group, The Times reported yesterday.
Fosun is now thought to be one of several potential suitors interested in buying the company’s tour operating business.
Fosun first took a stake in Thomas Cook in 2015, the same year it acquired French all-inclusive operator Club Med, and has a joint venture in China with the UK travel company.
Sky News reported that private equity groups KKR and EQT were also among firms said to be interested in parts, or the whole, of Thomas Cook.
People close to KKR and EQT denied they were interested or currently involved, according to the Financial Times.
Richard Clarke, an analyst at Bernstein, said a disposal of the carrier would free up the rest of the business to be bought.
“A Chinese or US company would not be able to buy Thomas Cook in its current state, but could if the airline is split off,” he told the FT.
“There may be potential buyers [of the airline business] we have not heard of so far, but there is always a possibility they will just sell what is valuable – the aircraft and slots at busy airports – to free the rest of the business to be bought by anyone.”
Leading leisure analyst Andrew Monk said that Thomas Cook “is more valuable than people realise and probably the best brand in the industry” but there may be a bidding war which Fosun will be part of.
Thomas Cook issued two profit warnings last year and swung to a pre-tax loss of £163 million, compared with a £9 million profit the year before. Delayed bookings and the impact of foreign exchange movements helped increase its net debt to £389 million, from £40 million in 2017.
Shareholders were told earlier this month that Thomas Cook may have been in breach of its own borrowing limits, with a general meeting planned for April 29.
This followed the UK business putting 320 shop staff under consultation with plans to shut 21 outlets following a review of its retail performance.
A review of its financial services division was then instigated to further cut costs.
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