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Cerberus may bid for Ford's UK luxury brands

From Financial Times| June 21,2007

Cerberus, the private equity group that has just bought Chrysler, is now voicing interest in a possible bid for one or both of Ford Motors' two UK luxury brands - Land Rover and Jaguar.

According to two people with direct knowledge of the matter, the buy-out group, which secured Chrysler last month for $7.4 billion (5.52 billion), has voiced preliminary interest in Ford's sale of the two marques, for which other private equity groups and financial investors will also likely compete. "They are definitely one of the players in the game," said one.

Jac Nasser, Ford's former chief executive, is also said to be sizing up Land Rover and Jaguar on behalf of buy-out firm One Equity Partners.

Mr Nasser, an early suitor for Aston Martin - the third UK marque Ford sold in March's GBP479 million (710 million) deal to a Kuwaiti-led consortium - could not be reached for comment on Friday. Cerberus declined to comment.

Ford's advisers on the sale - Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and HSBC - have not issued an information memorandum or invited bids for the two carmakers.

The US carmaker was caught off-guard when news of the politically sensitive sale leaked out this week, long before it was ready to start a formal auction process. Ford sees the British brands as a drain on its financial and management resources as it tries to turn around its loss-making, core US operation.

News of the Cerberus overtures toward Land Rover and Jaguar - alongside those of other buy-out groups - will likely further fan a gathering UK backlash against private equity.

Jaguar and Land Rover are seen as "heritage" brands, and any buy-out group would be likely to slash jobs at the two carmakers, whose overlapping operations employ about 16,000 people. Jaguar Cars in the UK - its biggest market - reported a pre-tax loss of GBP533.7 million (7.9 million) in 2005, the last year for which accounts are available.

A private equity bid for the two carmakers could prove politically contentious for the incoming British prime minister, Gordon Brown, as the buy-out industry is attracting considerable adverse publicity in the UK.

Ford had an easier time selling Aston Martin to Arab and US investors because the consortium was led by Dave Richards, a well-regarded British automotive entrepreneur.

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