* Letters of intent due by May 28: binding bids by July 20
* Deal value estimations wide, between $100 mln-$500 mln
* No existing share sale; fresh share issues only
By Kim Yeon-hee and Janaki Krishnan
SEOUL/MUMBAI, May 14 India's top utility vehicle and tractor maker, Mahindra & Mahindra (MAHM.BO), is considering bidding for South Korea's Ssangyong Motor (003620.KS), sources with knowledge of the development said, in a deal reportedly worth up to $500 million.
Ssangyong, 10 percent owned by China's SAIC Motor Corp (600104.SS), has been in court-led restructuring since early 2009, hammered by one of the industry's worst downturns, and is looking for a buyer to stay afloat with fresh capital.
A Seoul court kicked off the sale process this week and set the May 28 deadline for a letter of intent.
A Ssangyong official said Mahindra was known to have informally expressed interest in the troubled carmaker even before the formal process started.
But a second source said the Indian firm has yet to take a decision on whether to submit a letter of intent and was still reviewing its potential proposal.
Mahindra, which has been looking for acquisitions since it lost out to larger rival Tata Motors (TAMO.BO) to buy Jaguar Land Rover in 2008, has been looking for acquisitions to expand its portfolio and get access to new markets, declined to comment.
A deal with Ssangyong, which makes Rexton and Kyron SUVs and Chairman sedan, will be a good fit for Mahindra, which plans to launch a pick-up truck in the United States and aims to introduce an SUV later this year.
Mahindra is the sole overseas bidder for Ssangyong, and media reports said two-to-three small South Korean manufacturers and investment firms are also interested. [ID:nTOE63O01O]
An official involved in the sale process in Seoul said Mahindra had not directly contacted the sellers, and other potential bidders have yet to express interest.
WIDE VALUATION GAP
South Korean media put the deal at $300 million-$500 million, but analysts said Mahindra was more likely to bid in the range of $100 million to $300 million to recapitalise Ssangyong, which was forced to undergo a capital writedown last year.
"If you look at its debt-to-equity ratio, it is about 0.4 and an acquisition of this small size would hardly stretch its financials," said Surjit Arora, an analyst with Prabhudas Lilladhe.
Shares in Ssangyong, with a market value of 413.6 billion won ($365 million), halved its value since late last year on concerns about a further capital writedown.
But it has since seen some improvement in operation, helped by a consumption recovery and aggressive marketing.
Ssangyong narrowed operating losses to 25.8 billion won in the first quarter from a year earlier, and this week forecast strong profit growth in the second quarter, helped by improving sales.
Its car sales more than doubled last month and expects record sales in May. [ID:nTOE642022].
China's SAIC, which bought into Ssangyong in 2004 to become a top shareholder, with a 51 percent stake, but it has not been able to turn around South Korea's smallest automaker.
It has steadily sold downs its stake in Ssangyong to 10 percent in recent months after a capital writedown last year.
Samjong KPMG and Macquarie are handling the sale.
(Editing by Ken Wills)