German retailer Arcandor, which owns almost 53% of Thomas Cook, entered bankruptcy protection in June and is working on a restructuring plan to be unveiled in August or September.
Arcandor chief executive Karl-Gerhard Eick insisted this week he would seek to retain control of Thomas Cook, but admitted to the Financial Times: “The decision is out of my hands.”
Thomas Cook’s share price has fallen since Arcandor went into bankruptcy, suggesting investors anticipate a cut-price sale. However, leisure analyst Nick Batram of City firm KBC Peel Hunt said: “The longer the process drags on, the longer it gives Rewe to make a bid.”
German tour operator and retailer Rewe has already declared an interest in Thomas Cook, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange. But it has been suggested Rewe, which is privately owned, would struggle to finance a deal amid the current squeeze on financing.
The situation is complicated by the fact that Arcandor’s stake in Thomas Cook will revert to a consortium of banks if it fails.
Batram said: “It is a complete mess and there is a lot of uncertainty. But for the Thomas Cook business it does not mean a great deal. The banks could get hold of the stock and place it on the market. But Rewe is more likely to get Thomas Cook.
“Rewe has talked about wanting consolidation in Germany and it makes good business sense,” he said. “Rewe and Thomas Cook both have about 16% of the German tour-operator market.”
Batram ruled out a bid from within Thomas Cook, saying: “I would discount a management buy out. It would be a difficult time to do it.”
Arcandor was brought down by problems at its department-store chain Karstadt and mail-order company Primondo after failing to secure German government aid.