Ford awaits revised Aston Martin bids

Ford is today awaiting revised offers for its Aston Martin division which is expected to fetch about £450m (€67.9m), with some reports claiming the price has risen higher than £500m (€753.2).

However, bids are believed to have been reduced as due diligence has revealed issues such as a shortfall in the pension fund.

Only a handful of bidders are thought to remain in the running. A source familiar with the process told IFR Buyouts that those companies were “probably the same cast list” rumoured in recent days. These include property investor Simon Halabi, buyout house Doughty Hanson, Canadian car parts group Magna and a consortium including Australian media mogul James Packer.

Meanwhile, Alchemy, Texas Pacific Group and One Equity are all understood to have ended their interest in an acquisition. A fund set up by French billionaire Bernard Arnault is also thought to be out of the race.

Further speculation has suggested that private equity house Permira could be interested, although the firm declined to comment. A source close to the auction described the house as keeping a “half-hearted involvement”, suggesting it was waiting to see whether other runners would step back from the deal. UBS, which is handling the sale, declined to comment.

Ford, which recently announced record losses of £12.7bn for 2006, put Aston Martin up for sale last year in an attempt to reduce debt. Various analyst estimates at the time put the price of the division at anywhere between £350m and £1bn. Commentators have generally agreed that a trade buyer is unlikely to appear for the company, and that a financial buyer or wealthy investor is a more probable purchaser.

Ford is no stranger to dealing with financial sponsors. In December 2005, the company sold rental car giant Hertz in a US$15bn buyout to a private equity consortium comprising Clayton Dubilier & Rice, Carlyle Group and Merrill Lynch Global Private Equity.

Earlier speculation suggested that Ford would also look to dispose of its Land Rover and Jaguar businesses, although more recent reports suggest this plan has now been shelved.