German travel group TUI said it is increasingly likely it will exercise an option to sell its stake in shipper Hapag-Lloyd to the consortium that owns it in January, rather than float it or sell it to a third-party investor.

It's only logical that with every day that passes, the probability we will exercise that option becomes greater, a spokesman told Reuters on Friday.

When selling off part of its holding in Hapag-Lloyd in 2009, TUI and the Albert Ballin consortium agreed not only first right of refusal on the stake, but also an obligation for the consortium to acquire the stake.

TUI can exercise that right on January 2, and the parties have 30 days to agree on a price. If no deal can be reached, independent experts have a further 30 days to establish a price, and then the consortium has until September 30 to sign a purchase agreement.

The Albert Ballin consortium is a group of Hamburg-based investors led by Klaus-Michael Kuehne, the majority owner of Swiss logistics group Kuehne & Nagel , and controls some 62 percent of Hapag-Lloyd.

The TUI spokesman added that the group was still in talks over a sale to an investor and that the company could still seek a sale to an investor while the option process runs next year.

TUI, which controls TUI Travel , postponed plans to float part of its 38.4 percent stake in Hapag-Lloyd earlier this year because of stock market turbulence and the IPO market in Europe is still frozen.

It wants to exit Hapag-Lloyd in order to focus on its tourism activities and expansion in the fast-growing Russian market.

(Reporting by Victoria Bryan)