Silverjet in takeover talks with three bidders

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The Independent Online

Silverjet, the beleaguered all-business class airline, is involved in takeover talks with at least three bidders, one of them an airline, according to sources close to the situation.

The company announced it was in play yesterday with a terse statement to the Stock Exchange, admitting discussions that "may or may not lead to an offer".

A source said last night: "Three conversations are going on right now, and one of them is with another airline." One rumoured suitor, easyJet, is not involved, the source added.

The bid talk gave an uncharacteristic fillip to Silverjet shares, which have fallen precipitously from their high of 200p just over a year ago. They closed 5.75p up yesterday at 21p. A spokeswoman for the company declined to comment on who the bidders may be.

The most likely option is thought to be the Reuben brothers, the billionaire investors who loaned the company £10m in December.

The brothers, David and Simon, declined to convert their holding into shares by the February deadline because the share price fall in the intervening months left the stock well below the price at which they bought in.

Michael Stoddart, an analyst at Daniel Stewart & Co, who earlier this year slapped a "nil" price target on Silverjet and exhorted investors to "sell at any price", said: "[The Reuben brothers] have got the greatest financial interest in the company.

"If the company carries on producing losses, that £10m becomes in greater jeopardy. They might want to take control of it."

It is unclear what that would mean for Lawrence Hunt, the chief executive, who, according to Mr Stoddart, owns about 6.2 per cent of the company, bought at an average of 11p per share. Speculation that the company is destined to follow the path of rival Maxjet, which collapsed last Christmas, has been rife as it struggles to deal with rising fuel prices. Earlier this month, Mr Hunt admitted that it failed to reach profitability last month – a key milestone that the company itself had set.

Eos Airlines, an all-business class rival, could also be in the running.