General Motors close to Opel deal with RHJ: report

Tue Jun 30, 2009 4:24am EDT

A general view of the main entrance of the Opel assembly plant in Antwerp June 15, 2009. REUTERS/Thierry Roge

A general view of the main entrance of the Opel assembly plant in Antwerp June 15, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Thierry Roge

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(Reuters) - Belgium-based RHJ International (RHJI.BR) is close to a deal to buy a stake in Opel after talks between parent General Motors GMGMQ.PK and preferred bidder Magna International MGa.TO hit snags, the Financial Times reported.

Citing a person close to the sale, the report said holding company RHJ and GM could sign a memorandum of understanding this week, and noted GM was seeking bids from rival suitors despite a preliminary deal with Canadian auto parts group Magna.

The FT said RHJ had improved an earlier bid and GM was "taking it very seriously."

Despite having been named in media reports as a potential Opel buyer, RHJ has never confirmed or denied that it made an initial bid for the troubled carmaker, let alone a second, improved one.

"I'm not going to comment on this current speculation," RHJ spokesman Arnaud Denis told Reuters on Tuesday.

Bank Degroof analyst Hans D'Haese said the frequency and detail of media reports naming RHJ as an Opel suitor led him to think the firm had made a bid, though he added RHJ has said its strategy going forward was to focus on financial rather than industrial buys.

"It was very explicit - that the cash they have on their accounts now will be used for acquisitions of financial assets in Europe," said D'Haese.

The Financial Times reported that RHJ's new offer was said to be more sensitive to job losses in Germany, which is providing $2.1 billion of bridge financing to keep the carmaker afloat as GM goes through bankruptcy proceedings in the U.S.

Another sticking point in the negotiations with Magna is access to the Detroit carmaker's global technology, which the Canadian firm wants to secure on behalf of its Russian partners, the newspaper said.

The FT report comes one day after German magazine Focus quoted an unnamed RHJ spokesman as saying the group had been "kicked out of the bidding process." Denis also declined to comment on that report.

RHJ's stock was up 1.2 percent at 4.4 euros at 0806 GMT (4:06 a.m. EDT).

RHJ's holdings include Japan's automotive components company Asahi Tec 5606.T, American media group Columbia Music (6791.T) and Belgian automotive component company Honsel International, according to its website.

General Motors could not be reached immediately for comment and an Opel spokesman declined immediate comment on Tuesday's report. Fiat (FIA.MI), another potential suitor, declined to comment, as did Magna.

(Reporting by Anne Jolis in Brussels and Hezron Selvi in Bangalore; additional reporting by Christiaan Hetzner, Boris Groendahl and Jo Winterbottom; writing by Anne Jolis; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Erica Billingham)

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