FirstGroup shares jump by a fifth on US sale talk

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FirstGroup PLC (LON:FGP) shares jumped by 20% after reports over the weekend that several private equity groups are looking at the embattled bus and train operator’s US operations.


Names suggested by the Sunday Telegraph included Brookfield, Apollo Global, and KKR with sources cited by the paper saying that the group had put the First Student and First Transit businesses up for sale in recent weeks.


FirstGroup’s bus and trail operations have been hit hard by the pandemic and have required heavy subsidies to keep going throughout the crisis.


Like other operators, it had been running reduced services while the coronavirus lockdowns have been in place but passengers numbers have tumbled due to people staying at home.


Last week, the Great Western franchise, one of four run by FirstGroup, had its emergency support extended by teh UK government until at least next summer.


Under this arrangement, the government takes on all the revenue, cost and contingent capital risk, with FirstGroup receiving a fixed 2% management fee plus a potential performance-related bonus.


Today, the train network operators said that timetables are back to 90% of their pre-COVID-19 levels in an attempt to get people back to work and as schools and universities reopen.


Rail firms said they can run at about 40% of normal capacity without breaching social distancing guidelines.


In July, FirstGroup said that if the UK and North America enforce restrictions for the rest of the current financial year, but continue to provide fiscal support, the second half would see a gradual return to pre-crisis levels.


At the time, the FTSE 250-listed firm also said it remains committed to selling its North American businesses “at the earliest appropriate opportunity” which will help repay its debt, which amounted to GBP3.2bn at the end of March.


Shares rose 20% to 47.7p.

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