Spanish take seat on board National Express

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One of Spain's wealthiest families is set to become the biggest shareholder in National Express, after the UK rail and bus group's £461m takeover yesterday of the privately owned Spanish coach operator Alsa.

The deal will result in the Cosmen family, the owners of Alsa, taking a 10 per cent stake in National Express with a view to increasing that to 15 per cent. Currently, the company's biggest shareholder is Barclays Global Investors with a 14 per cent stake. Jorge Cosmen, 37, Alsa's president, will also become a non-executive director of National Express.

National Express is financing the deal with £149m in cash and the issue of a further 13.5 million shares worth a further £113m. In addition, it is taking on Alsa's debts of £199m.

The price of the deal is far higher than indicated last week when news of the takeover began to leak in Spain. But National Express said that Alsa's profits were also much higher than the market had been led to believe. In 2004, it made a profit before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of £49.5m on turnover of £219m.

Alsa is Spain's biggest coach operator with a fleet of 1,400 vehicles carrying 93 million passengers a year. It has concessions to run long-distance coach services between major Spanish cities, the average length of which is nine years.

Phil White, National Express's chief executive, said he had known Alsa for six years through their European coach joint venture Eurolines and had first tried to buy the company in the late 1990s.

He said there was scope not only to grow Alsa's coach business but also to expand its bus division as route networks were opened up to private operation.