Stagecoach mulls bid for National Express

STAGECOACH yesterday said it was in exclusive talks with the consortium seeking to buy and break up rival transport group National Express.<br /><br />A buyout group made up of private equity firm CVC Capital Partners and the Spanish Cosmen family has proposed a cash offer for National Express, subject to various conditions.<br /><br />Stagecoach, run by Brian Souter, could pick up &ldquo;certain assets and businesses&rdquo; if the bid is successful. It is also understood to be considering its own individual bid. <br /><br />Stagecoach is thought to be interested in the rail, bus and coach operations of National Express, which could lead to a merger between the two companies&rsquo; US bus operations as well.<br /><br />National Express said it was evaluating the offer, but City sources have said executives will shoot down the takeover bid from the Cosmen and CVC consortium, which values the firm at &pound;500m, because they think it is too low.<br /><br />Any deal depends on whether National Express hangs on to its East Anglia and c2c rail franchises. <br /><br />There are fears the government could strip it of these services because of the row over its East Coast franchise. <br /><br />The government is set to take the East Coast rail franchise into state ownership after National Express admitted it couldn&rsquo;t afford payments on the line, and ministers refused requests for its contract to be renegotiated, prompting chief executive Richard Bowker to quit suddenly. <br /><br />Under change-of-control guidelines, transport secretary Lord Adonis could also block the transfer of any of National Express franchises to another firm. <br /><br />The embattled transport company received what it called a &ldquo;highly preliminary&rdquo; approach from FirstGroup last month, which was later withdrawn due to uncertainty over its future as a UK rail operator.