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Fosun Tourism in talks to buy Thomas Cook's tour operating business: Sky News

FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian walks past a Thomas Cook shop in central London, November 26, 2014. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett/File Photo

(Reuters) - Hong Kong-based Fosun Tourism is in talks to buy Thomas Cook’s tour operating business, Sky News reported on Saturday, as the British group faces breakup after issuing three profit warnings in the past year.

Thomas Cook, the world’s oldest tour operator, has been facing challenges from dwindling demand for its package holidays and high levels of debt, and is also looking to sell its profitable airline business.

Sky News said a formal bid from Fosun Tourism for the tour unit was not guaranteed and discussions were at an early stage. It said Fosun is working with bankers at JP Morgan on the potential offer.

A formal bid from Fosun Tourism could come in weeks but would not include Thomas Cook’s airline business, the report said. Airlines must be majority owned by European Union nationals to operate intra-EU flights.

Thomas Cook, which traces its roots to excursions run by its founder in the mid nineteen century, has previously said it has received multiple offers from parties interested in buying its airline business in whole or in part.

Thomas Cook has also said it had received a takeover approach for its Nordic operations from private equity group Triton, which owns European online tour operator Sunweb.

Refinitiv data shows Fosun Chairman Guangchang Guo is the largest shareholder in Thomas Cook with an 18.7% stake. Thomas Cook has a joint venture in China in partnership with Fosun Tourism’s parent Fosun International Ltd .

Thomas Cook said it had no comment on the Sky News report, while Fosun and JP Morgan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thomas Cook shares closed at 16.1 pence on Friday, having slumped from a 2018 high of 150p set in May that year. Last month analysts at Citi cut their valuation of the stock to zero in the wake of the company’s latest profit warning.

Reporting by Philip George in Bengaluru and Alistair Smout in London; Editing by David Holmes