First Reserve joins trio chasing Cognetas asset

The specialist energy-focused firm has joined PAI Partners and Rhone Capital in the auction of French petrol pump company Trokheim, as owner Cognetas seeks to cap a tumultuous year by returning capital to its investors.

PAI Partners, First Reserve and Rhone Capital are vying to acquire French business Tokheim, which makes petrol pumps and payment systems, with bids expected to come in by the end of the month.

PAI and Rhone have previously been mentioned in reports as having entered the bidding for the company, but it has emerged that energy specialist First Reserve Corporation has also entered the fray. First Reserve previously owned Tokheim's North American operations.

First Reserve and PAI declined to comment on their participation in the auction, while Rhone Capital could not be reached for comment. Cognetas did not return calls by press time.

A figure of €400 million has been mooted as Cognetas’ target price for the company, although one person close to the situation described that as “very optimistic”. The firm hopes to agree a deal before Christmas, the source said. Cognetas declined to comment on the process, which is being run by JPMorgan.

Tokheim is one of just seven companies left in Cognetas’ portfolio. The firm, which parted company with managing partner Nigel McConnell in June this year, has since announced the closure of its London and Frankfurt offices as part of a strategic review that will see it focus instead on the French and Italian markets.

Debt advisory boutique Marlborough Partners is arranging a staple financing package to back the deal.

Cognetas acquired Tokheim from French buyout group AXA Private Equity in 2005 for €260 million. According to a source with knowledge of the investment, the investment was highly levered. The debt used to finance the buyout in 2005 is not due to mature for at least another year, according to the source.