Apax Vueling sale fuels Iberia rumours

Apax has sold its entire 21 percent stake in Spanish carrier Vueling Airlines, via a private placement run by Goldman Sachs. The sale has fuelled speculation that it will use the proceeds to finance a bid for Iberia, the Spanish airline currently being targeted by a TPG-led consortium.

Apax Partners has sold its entire stake in budget carrier Vueling Airlines, fuelling rumours that it is set to launch a rival bid for Iberia, another Spanish airline.

A Vueling plane: Apax Partners has sold its stake in the budget carrier.

In a statement to the Spanish stock market, Goldman Sachs said it had sold Apax’s entire 21 percent stake in Vueling, the airline it owns through its Daliair and Guadiair subsidiaries, through a private placement.

The bank said it had placed 3.13 million shares via an accelerated book-build process at €31 per share, which would net the buyout firm about €97 million. Goldman said the shares had been placed with institutional investors both in Spain and overseas.

Apax was one of the founding investors in Vueling when the airline was established in May 2004, alongside Grupo Planeta and a group of Spanish investors. Between them, the firms committed about €30 million to the deal. The airline floated on the Spanish stock market in December, and its share price reached as high as €46.30 before dropping down to its current level of just under €34.

Apax’s lock-up period ended last week on May 31, and there had been widespread speculation that it would cash in its stake to fund a bid for Iberia.

A TPG-led consortium that also includes British Airways and three Spanish investment groups is considered to be the current front-runner in the race for Iberia. The consortium has made an indicative €3.4 billion bid, but is still waiting for the airline to open up its books.