Virgin Atlantic in bid for Thomas Cook

LONDON (Reuters) – The chief executive of British Airways owner IAG ruled out bidding for Thomas Cook’s airline unit on Friday, a day after rival Virgin Atlantic was reported to be interested in part of the business.

Lufthansa and private equity fund Indigo Partners are seen among the front-runners for Thomas Cook’s airlines after the firm put it up for sale in February, to raise cash after a string of profit warnings in 2018.

IAG had previously been linked with the business, but on Friday, Chief Executive Willie Walsh said that his firm had not made a bid.

“In relation to Thomas Cook… we’re not putting in any bid,” Walsh told reporters.

He added in an analyst call later in the day that the firm was not actively pursuing M&A at the moment but was in a strong position to do so if something attractive came up.

Virgin Atlantic has put in a preliminary offer for the tour operator’s UK long-haul business, Sky News reported on Thursday. Thomas Cook and Virgin Atlantic both declined to comment on the report.

Lufthansa is a bidder for Thomas Cook’s German airline Condor with an option to acquire the remaining airlines of the British travel group, Lufthansa’s CEO said on Tuesday.

Indigo Partners is also a likely suitor for Thomas Cook’s airline business, sources said last week, adding that the deadline for initial bids was on Tuesday earlier this week.

An unexpectedly warm summer in northern Europe last year deterred holiday makers from booking lucrative last minute getaways, resulting in two major profit warnings for the world’s oldest travel company.

Worries about the firm’s ability to pay its debts pushed the yield on its euro-denominated bonds that mature in 2022 to a record high last Friday, and Thomas Cook said later in the day that it was in talks with its lenders about bolstering its finances.

Thomas Cook’s half-year earnings release for the six months to March 31 is due next Thursday.