Lufthansa in contact with Norwegian as airlines size up deals

BERLIN/OSLO (Reuters) - Lufthansa LHAG.DE is in contact with Norwegian Air Shuttle, which is also the subject of bid interest from British Airways owner IAG, as the German airline looks to get involved in an expected wave of deals in the sector, its CEO told a newspaper.

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Shares in Norwegian Air NWC.OL jumped more than 10 percent on Monday following the comments by Lufthansa boss Carsten Spohr to Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

“In Europe, everyone is talking to everyone. There’s a new wave of consolidation approaching. That means we are also in contact with Norwegian,” Spohr was quoted as saying.

Asked whether Norwegian would fit with the Lufthansa group, Spohr said: “Takeovers are always a question of strategic value, the price and anti-trust. There are no easy answers.”

Norwegian reiterated on Monday that it had been approached by potential buyers and investors following an announcement in April that IAG ICAG.L had taken a 4.6-percent stake in the carrier.

It’s Chief Executive Bjoern Kjos confirmed to Norwegian public broadcaster NRK later on Monday that Lufthansa has been in touch with Norwegian Air’s advisors, and he had personally exchanged text messages with Lufthansa’s boss.

Kjos declined to comment on the contact, adding that he personally thought that it was “a bit too early” to sell the company.

Norwegian Air's shares closed in Oslo 10 percent higher at 274 crowns. Lufthansa shares were down 1 percent, slightly outperforming a 1.3 percent weaker DAX .GDAXI index in Germany.

After the failures of Air Berlin and Monarch last year, airline executives have predicted more consolidation this year in Europe, especially as rising oil prices make life tougher for carriers with weaker finances.

Spohr told Reuters earlier this month that Lufthansa would grab more takeover opportunities if they arose and that carriers were all in contact with each other.

“There are no negotiations or in-depth talks and it is open whether anything will come of it,” said a source with knowledge of the contact between Lufthansa and Norwegian.

Strategically speaking, Norwegian would fit well with Eurowings, Lufthansa’s low-cost brand, the source added.

“The advantage is that it’s a functioning flight operation with low costs,” the source said.

After taking over parts of Air Berlin last year and acquiring the remaining stake in Brussels Airlines to expand its Eurowings brand, Lufthansa has also eyed Alitalia, though the sale process is being held up by political turmoil.

Lufthansa had previously been interested in Scandinavian carrier SAS SAS.ST, but two years ago said it had decided not to invest.

IAG’s CEO has said he will not engage in a bidding war for Norwegian, repeating to shareholders last week that Norwegian was not a deal the group had to do.

Additional reporting by Ilona Wissenbach in Frankfurt, Gwladys Fouche and Nerijus Adomaitis in Oslo; Editing by Mark Potter and David Evans