June 27, 2018 / 8:23 AM / in 10 months

Norway sells remaining stake in SAS airline

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway sold its remaining 9.88 percent stake in Scandinavian airline SAS (SAS.ST) for 652 million Swedish crowns (55.61 million pounds), it said on Wednesday, adding this was not the start of a privatisation drive by the centre-right government.

FILE PHOTO: A Scandinavian SAS airline passenger plane flies near the air traffic control tower after taking off from Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Roissy, near Paris, August 21, 2013. REUTERS/Charles Platiau//File Photo

The Norwegian state, a partial owner of SAS since 1946, has gradually cut its holdings and the latest sale of 37.8 million shares finalised its exit from the Sweden-headquartered airline.

“SAS has developed well in recent years and capital markets are strong, making this a good time to sell,” Industry Minister Torbjoern Roe Isaksen told Reuters.

“There are also uncertainties linked to state ownership, it’s not just income, there can also be expenses,” the minister said, adding that the Norwegian state had injected around 1 billion crowns ($122.89 million) into SAS in 2009-2010.

The stake was sold via book-building to multiple institutional investors for 17.25 Swedish crowns ($1.94) per share, a 3.1 percent discount to Tuesday’s closing price of 17.81 crowns. SAS was not expected to change its strategy or operations as a result, Roe Isaksen said.

By 0751 GMT shares traded down 3.9 percent in Stockholm at 17.11 crowns.

The airline industry will see significant change, he said, adding that privatisation, passenger growth and the entry of new players in recent years will drive development.

“It’s likely that we face bigger consolidation in the airline market,” he said.

Budget carrier Norwegian Air (NWC.OL), which has surpassed SAS to become the largest Nordic carrier by passenger volume, is itself the subject of takeover interest by the likes of British Airways-owner IAG (ICAG.L) and Lufthansa (LHAG.DE). [nL8N1TK10K]

The Swedish and Danish governments remain SAS’ top owners with holdings of 14.8 and 14.2 percent respectively. But while Sweden has signalled its willingness to cut its stake at some point, Denmark is reluctant to do so for fear of damaging Copenhagen Airport’s (KBHL.CO) position as a major regional hub.

Norway’s SAS sale should not be seen as the start of a privatisation drive, Roe Isaksen said.

The government is the top shareholder of telecoms group Telenor (TEL.OL), aluminium firm Norsk Hydro (NHY.OL), fertiliser maker Yara (YAR.OL) and defence contractor Kongsberg Gruppen (KOG.OL), as well as of oil firm Equinor (EQNR.OL), formerly known as Statoil.

“Selling out of SAS is enough,” the minister said.

Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Alexandra Hudson

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