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Norway seeks mandate to sell SAS stake

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Norway seeks mandate to sell SAS stake
15:39 CEST+02:00
A decision by the Norwegian government on Friday to seek permission to sell its stake in SAS has no impact on Sweden's stance on the possible sale of its shares in the Scandinavian airline.

"Our plan remains to decrease our ownership stake in SAS when the time is right," Victoria Ericsson, a spokesperson for Swedish financial markets minister Peter Norman, told The Local on Friday.

Norway's ministry of industry and trade presented a report to the Norwegian parliament on Friday which highlighted the difficulties facing SAS.

"In this context, it is appropriate to seek a new industrial solution for SAS," the ministry said in its ownership report, according to the Reuters news agency.

"SAS continues to face a number of challenges which they are likely to best meet with an industrial partner as owners."

Speaking with reporters, Norwegian trade minister Trond Giske said the government no longer saw ownership of SAS as "necessary to ensure good airline coverage", although he refused to say whether the government in Norway had received any indications of interest in its SAS shares.

Norway currently owns 14.29 percent of the troubled Scandinavian airline, which has long been the subject of rumours about a possible takeover.

In December, SAS shares soared on speculation that Lufthansa, already an SAS partner on some routes, was set to make a bid for the airline in early 2011.

So far, however, no deal has materialised.

In early 2010, the Swedish government sought and received approval from the Riksdag to reduce its holdings in SAS at an "opportune moment".

Now the government in Oslo is seeking a similar mandate from the Norwegian parliament.

In Sweden, the mandate to sell the state's shares in SAS is part of a wider privatisation programme initiated by the centre-right Alliance government.

While parts of the Swedish government's sell-off plans suffered a blow following a recent parliamentary vote revoking permission to sell stakes in a number of state-owned companies, the possible sale of Sweden's 21.4 percent stake in SAS wasn't affected by the move.

According to Ericsson, Sweden also plans to consult its Scandinavian partners in the event of a sale of SAS shares.

"If and when we decrease our ownership stake, that decision will be done in dialogue with other major partners, Denmark and Norway," said Ericsson.

Together, the three Scandinavian countries own more than 50 percent of SAS.

Ericsson however refused to comment on whether there were any concrete plans in the works to sell Sweden's stake in SAS, or to elaborate on what exactly the finance ministry would consider to be an "opportune time".

Norway's trade minister also emphasised his government's plans to carry out any SAS sale in cooperation with Sweden and Denmark, adding that Norway was in no rush to sell.

"Such situations can come up quickly, and we want to be ready to act quickly if something happens," Giske told reporters, according to Swedish business daily Dagens Industri (DI).

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