Frankfurt-based Lufthansa Monday said it would enter a non-binding offer for a minority stake in AuA – as the target is known – by a Sunday deadline. The company refused to say how much it would bid for its rival, which is worth about €687 million ($1.01 billion)
The Austrian government, with the help of investment bank Merrill Lynch, is selling its 42.75 percent stake in AuA as part of a broader government mandate to unwind public investments. The sale has already attracted interest from Air France-KLM, Turkish Airlines and Air China Ltd. Russia's Aeroflot backed away from the auction last week.
The auction is effectively for control of the airline since whoever wins will be required by Austrian securities regulations to make an offer at the same per-share price to all other shareholders.
Lufthansa has long been seen as the preferred suitor after years of cooperation and joint membership in the Star Alliance. The alliance also includes United, US Airways, Turkish Airlines and Scandinavia's SAS, among others.
The German carrier also has a convincing history of absorbing troubled national carriers while maintaining their regional hubs and identity. Three years ago Lufthansa picked up Swiss International Air Lines – primarily by agreeing to shoulder the target's debt – in what is known seen as a successful rescue.
The AuA sale is also part of a broader consolidation among European carriers who have been hit by the twin headwinds of high-flying fuel prices and stalling sales. British Airways earlier this month confirmed it was in talks to buy Spanish flag carrier Iberia Líneas Aéreas de España and then said it was also hoping to link with AMR Corp.'s American Airlines.
Government-owned Czech Airlines may hit the block later this year, a Czech government official recently told Reuters. The government owns 91.5 percent of the airline, which is worth about 4 billion Czech koruna ($242.2 million).
Meanwhile, in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi's government is trying to change bankruptcy regulations in order to split up deeply troubled Alitalia and sell the healthy parts to the highest bidder while shutting down the unprofitable divisions. Air France-KLM and Lufthansa are seen as the most likely buyers.