NatEx suitors table a final 765m offer

SHARES in National Express (NatEx) shot up by 13 per cent yesterday, after the transport group received an improved takeover offer of &pound;765m from a consortium led by its largest investor.<br /><br />The consortium, comprising Spanish shareholder the Cosmen family and CVC Capital Partners, raised its indicative cash offer for the group to 500p a share, while rival Stagecoach added it had agreed in principle to buy NatEx&rsquo;s UK bus and rail operations from the consortium if the bid succeeds.<br /><br />CVC-Cosmen said the final proposal must be recommended by the National Express board or it would be withdrawn. It had previously offered 450p a share, which was rejected by NatEx in favour of a rights issue.<br /><br />The Cosmen family includes Jorge Cosmen, the non-executive deputy chairman of NatEx.<br /><br />The consortium said that the offer delivered an attractive premium for the shareholders, and &ldquo;provides the opportunity to draw a clear line under the recent difficulties associated with the company&rsquo;s UK rail franchise and relations with the Department for Transport&rdquo; regarding its rail franchises.<br /><br />NatEx said it was evaluating the proposed offer and that a further announcement would be made &ldquo;when appropriate&rdquo;.<br /><br />The group, which runs bus operations in Spain and North America as well as its UK bus and rail divisions, has been struggling with a debt-pile of nearly &pound;1bn and is handing the East Coast main line back to the government after it said it couldn&rsquo;t afford its franchise payments.<br /><br />Stagecoach said it wouldn&rsquo;t bid outright for the group while Arriva said it was monitoring the situation.