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Nat Express bidder pleas for rail lines

THE Spanish-led group bidding for National Express has appealed to the UK government not to strip the troubled transport group of its last two rail franchises.<br /><br />The consortium &ndash; made up Spain&rsquo;s Cosmen family, the largest shareholder in National Express, and private equity group CVC &ndash; have made any takeover of the UK transport group contingent on the retention of its two more profitable rail routes.<br /><br />The appeal has been made to transport secretary Lord Adonis, who is considering what to do about the group&rsquo;s remaining East Anglia and c2c routes.<br /><br />The development came as National Express revealed it had plunged into the red in its first half, thanks to a writedown of &pound;54.7m after it was stripped of its East Coast franchise by the government.<br /><br />It fell to a &pound;36.6m loss compared to a profit of &pound;35.9m in the same period last year, and announced it would scrap its interim dividend to pay down debt.<br /><br />The company said it had reduced net debt by over &pound;200m in the first-half to &pound;977.5m while its cost saving programme was on target to deliver planned savings of &pound;40m each year.<br /><br />Analysts said the group&rsquo;s huge debt burden could hinder its attempts to fight off the &pound;500m takeover from the Cosmen consortium. National Express says the offer undervalues the company.<br /><br />Finance Director Jez Maiden said the bus and rail firm had not ruled out a rights issue or disposing of assets.<br /><br />&ldquo;We would certainly look at all options including equity fundraising and disposals but at this point we&rsquo;ve made no decisions,&rdquo; he said.