MILAN/LONDON, Feb 14 (Reuters) - The field of prospective bidders for the Italian petrol station network belonging to Total and Italian energy group Erg has narrowed, leaving only a handful of interested parties undertaking due diligence checks on the business, sources familiar with the matter said.
A first round of bidding for the TotalErg joint venture company drew to a close at the end of January and binding bids for the network are now expected some time in early April, the sources said.
"It's a tough sale and things are moving slowly," one of the sources said, adding that management presentations had yet to take place.
API Anonima Petroli, the privately-owned oil refiner which owns 2,600 stations of its own, is one of the industrial players left in contention, along with Qatar Petroleum, the sources said.
Rival operator Kuwait Petroleum International (Q8) has said it is not in the running. "We monitor the market for opportunities but in this phase we are not interested in the asset," a Q8 spokesman said.
TotalErg declined to comment, while no one at API or Qatar Petroleum could immediately be reached for comment.
TotalErg, which controls close to 2,600 service stations and has a market share of some 11 percent, appointed HSBC and Rothschild to sell the business that could be worth as much as 800 million euros ($845 million).
But Italy has around 21,000 service stations across the country, almost twice the number in France and almost three times that of Britain, and the sources said a new owner of TotalErg might want to rationalise.
Private equity firms Advent and Apollo have also been admitted to the final stages of bidding, the sources said, while Carlyle Group and KKR decided to pull out.
Some of the sources said Advent and Apollo were considering teaming up with API to prepare a joint offer.
A deal with API would create Italy's biggest service station operator, ahead of Eni and Kuwait Petroleum International which last year bought a network from Royal Dutch Shell.
Advent declined to comment while no one at Apollo was immediately available to comment. ($1 = 0.9463 euros) (Additional reporting by Clara Denina and Claudia Cristoferi; Editing by Greg Mahlich)