Club Med set to back Chinese takeover bid this week

ClubMed holiday brochures at a Chinese tourist agency in Beijing. -- PHOTO: AFP
ClubMed holiday brochures at a Chinese tourist agency in Beijing. -- PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (Reuters) - French holiday company Club Mediterrannee is expected to back an offer from a consortium led by Chinese billionaire Guo Guangchang this week after Italian rival bidder Andrea Bonomi declined to raise his offer on Friday.

Bonomi's decision puts an end to the longest-running bid battle in recent French corporate history and removes uncertainty over the future of struggling Club Med, which is fighting weaker demand in Europe and heavy restructuring costs.

Investors are hoping Club Med's new owners will invest in the operator's upscale repositioning and expansion in markets such as China, which should widen a client base historically dominated by Europeans.

Guo, whom Forbes estimates has a net worth of about US$4.3 billion (S$5.73 billion), has described Club Med as an ideal investment to tap booming demand among China's increasingly affluent city dwellers for the kind of leisure resorts the French company offers.

The board of Club Med has said in the past it would only respond to the last standing offer for the company. It is expected to make a statement on the Chinese bid in the next few days, a spokesman for the Paris-listed company said on Sunday.

French market watchdog AMF for its part, will vet the offer led by China's richest man, valuing Club Med at 939 million euros (S$1.5 billion), and set out a timetable.

Guo's 24.60 euro a share offer was 0.60 euro higher than Bonomi's last bid and was the eighth offer for Club Med since May 2013 when Guo first offered 17 euros.

The Chinese offer values Club Med at more than 15 times the company's current estimated underlying earnings, putting it at a premium to the sector's average of around 13 times.

Club Med shares closed at 25.09 euros on Friday. Bonomi's vehicle Global Resorts said on Friday that shares it currently holds in Club Med would either be sold in conjunction with the bid by Guo's Gaillon Invest II vehicle or on the market.

"We take note with satisfaction of this decision," a spokesman for Gaillon Invest II said at the weekend in reaction to Bonomi's announcement it would not counterbid.

Club Med management, led by chief executive Henri Giscard d'Estaing, has consistently backed Guo's offer which is why investors expect it will recommend his offer.

Gaillon Invest II is majority controlled by Guo's Fosun conglomerate. It now comprises Fosun with a 62.6 per cent stake, Portuguese insurer Fidelidade with 20 per cent, French private equity partner Ardian with 5.8 percent, the management of Club Med with 2.9 per cent and Chinese travel agency U-Tour with 8.7 per cent.

Brazilian group Nelson Tanure, with which Club Med will build its fourth resort in Brazil, could also take a stake of up to 20 percent in Gaillon II once the offer goes through.

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