China’s Fosun buys into Thomas Cook

Friday, 13 March 2015 00:37 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

SHANGHAI/LONDON (Reuters): China’s Fosun International has bought a 5%stake in Thomas Cook Group, deepening its foray into Europe’s tourism sector and potentially helping the British company to compete with travel leviathan TUI Group. News of the investment, which the companies said came after two years of talks, sent Thomas Cook shares soaring by as much as 24%to 150.2 pence, their highest level for more than nine months. Fosun paid 92 million pounds ($140 million) for the Thomas Cook stake and will seek to double its holding in the world’s oldest travel group to 10 percent, it said in a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange on Friday. Thomas Cook said that it expects the tie-up to enhance earnings in the financial year to Sept. 30, 2016, assuming plans under the partnership are implemented in 2015. The jump in the company’s share price turns around a 13%decline after the surprise departure of former CEO Harriet Green in November and a further drop after it warned in February of a tough trading environment in Europe. The president of Fosun’s tourism and commercial group, Qian Jiannong, told reporters that the group does not plan to use the investment as a first step towards acquiring Thomas Cook in its entirety, but the Chinese company has some form with such manoeuvres. In February it finalised the acquisition of France’s Club Med in a $1.15 billion deal, having first bought a 7%stake in 2010. “That the Chinese are taking a 10%stake in Thomas Cook will underpin the share price now. If it ever falls again, people will say it could become a bid target,” Panmure Gordon analyst Karl Burns said. Thomas Cook said the boost to future earnings would come from plans to explore collaboration opportunities with Club Med, which Fosun is positioning for a more aggressive move into fast-growing markets such as China as it seeks to turn around the French company’s struggling European operations. The tie-up would also help to accelerate Thomas Cook’s plans to develop its Concept range of high-margin premium resort hotels, the British company said, adding that it will also aid expansion in China over the medium term as the two groups tailor new resorts to Chinese customers. Those steps could strengthen Thomas Cook’s ability to compete against the world’s biggest tourism and leisure company TUI Group, which was formed in December from the merger of London-listed TUI Travel and German majority owner TUI AG.