COPENHAGEN - The Danish government is open to all options concerning its 14.3 percent stake in Scandinavian airline SAS including a sale or a merger, Finance Minister Lars Rasmussen told a parliamentary committee.
According to a parliamentary transcript of a February 26 meeting of the Finance Committee, obtained by Reuters on Friday, Rasmussen told lawmakers an outright sale of Denmark's stake or a merger with another airline could both be on the table.
My opinion is that it would be unwise to commit to one (particular) strategy for our ownership of SAS, but instead (we should) be open to all options, time will tell, Rasmussen said.
The partly state-owned Scandinavian carrier has made several attempts to whittle down its cost base and has long been viewed as a takeover candidate.
The company said last month that it would aim to raise 6 billion Swedish crowns ($649.4 million) in a rights issue.
The rights issue will enable SAS to survive independently in the future, but the airline will still be exposed to competition from low-cost competitors and from larger peers with economies of scale on intercontinental routes, Rasmussen told the finance committee.
Sweden, Denmark and Norway have said they are aiming to maintain their stakes in SAS of 21.4 percent, 14.3 and 14.3 percent, respectively, in the share issue.
SAS said in September that it was evaluating various structural possibilities. Earlier the same month, sources said Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) was in talks to buy SAS. In January, French daily La Tribune reported that Air France KLM (AIRF.PA) saw SAS as an interesting opportunity.
SAS and other state carriers have been struggling for years with overcapacity and growing competition from no-frills airlines. Falling oil prices have brought some relief since last year, but fallout from the financial crisis has cut into passenger numbers.
Rasmussen told the committee that the government would not seek to maintain the current ownership structure in the airline if it would harm its ability to develop.
($1=9.239 Swedish Crown)
(Writing by Kim McLaughlin; editing by Karen Foster)