French steel firm Ascometal attracts four bidders – unions

STRASBOURG, France, Dec 19 (Reuters) – Troubled French steelmaker Ascometal has drawn interest from four potential buyers, union officials said on Tuesday, with commodity group Liberty House and Swiss steel firm Schmolz + Bickenbach confirming their interest.

Ascometal, which employs more than 1,300 people, filed for court protection last month after weak steel and oil markets in the past two years undermined an attempted recovery following a previous buyout in 2014.

Three companies – Liberty House, Schmolz + Bickenbach and Spain’s Sidenor – submitted offers by a Monday deadline set by a court in eastern France while an unnamed party submitted a letter of intention, union officials said.

“We can confirm that we have submitted a formal bid for Asco Industries businesses, but we are not in a position to make any detailed comment on the process as we don’t want to interfere in a court process,” Liberty House told Reuters.

UK-based Liberty House has been buying steel and aluminium assets around the world, and is considering a bid for Rio Tinto’s aluminium smelter in northern France, sources said this month.

Schmolz + Bickenbach, which like Ascometal makes specialist long-steel products, also confirmed in a statement earlier on Tuesday that it had made an offer for the French firm.

The bid was for a “substantial part” of Ascometal’s assets and was worth 135 million euros ($160 million), including 64 million euros to be invested over four years in the production facilities, the Swiss group said.

A source close to the matter, meanwhile, said that one of the offers was for the whole of Ascometal and supported by the company, which supplies industries including oil production and car making.

Sidenor was not immediately available to comment.

French daily Le Monde said that the fourth potential buyer for Ascometal was Italian steel firm Beltrame. Contacted by Reuters, it declined to comment.

Ascometal reported sales of 500 million euros for 2015 but union sources said they have since fallen below 400 million. It has five factories in France.

A court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 10 to review offers.

($1 = 0.8464 euros)

(Reporting by Gilbert Reilhac, additional reporting by Maytaal Angel and Clara Denina in London, writing by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Adrian Croft)

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