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Cosmen family criticises National Express over merger

The Cosmen family, the largest shareholders in the UK transport group National Express, has today criticised the company's handling of the proposed merger with rival Stagecoach Group.

A public statement released by the family said: "We are concerned that there has not been a sufficiently thorough assessment of all the available options to address the company's short and longer-term challenges and, in particular, of Stagecoach Group plc's merger proposal, an option that could have addressed the fundamental financial and strategic issues facing the company."
 
Scotland-based Stagecoach stepped in with a merger proposal two weeks ago after the Cosmens withdrew their takeover bid and supported equity fundraising measures. (Click here to read out coverage of the story) However, National Express terminated the talks with Stagecoach on Wednesday, stating it would be unlikely to complete the deal before the end of 2009. The company said it would instead press ahead with a rights issue.

"We are greatly concerned that the board risks losing further value for all shareholders by not keeping the company's options open and we would urge the board to seek independent financial and legal advice to assist it in this review process," the family statement added.

The Cosmens first become involved with the transport group in 2005 when National Express purchased the Cosmen family coach business, Alsa. As part of the deal the Cosmens gained a 10% stake in National Express and have since increased their holdings to 18.5%. Jorge Cosmen (pictured) is deputy chairman of National Express and remains chairman of Alsa.
 
National Express is struggling under the weight of £1.2 billion of debt after making cash acquisitions of both Alsa and another Spanish coach operator Continental Auto.

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