There is now speculation that Sweden will also sell its stake, but Denmark will keep hold of its own shares.
Norway has launched and quickly completed the sale of its last 9.88% stake in the pan-Scandinavian airline SAS, the country’s ministry of trade and industry says.
The Norwegian state has been gradually reducing its stake in the carrier, and the sale of its remaining 37.8 million shares completes the exit from the Swedish-based airline.
“The Norwegian state is not a long-term owner of SAS,” the ministry commented, adding that the ownership “has been purely commercial”.
“Consequently, it is not expected that the company will be making strategic or operational changes following the transaction,” the ministry concluded.
It is being speculated that the sale foreshadows a possible further sale also of Sweden’s remaining 14.8% share at some point in the future. Denmark, meanwhile, owns 14.2% and the remaining shares are held by private investors.
The buyer of the NOK 597 million (€62.9 million) Norwegian stake has not yet been revealed, only that the sale is to Norwegian and foreign “institutional investors”, the ministry said in a press release. It was conducted by auction on Tuesday night, after the Oslo Stock Exchange had ended trading.
End of an era
The sale marks the end of a majority ownership collaboration that has lasted decades between the Norwegian, Swedish and Danish governments.
However, Denmark says it has no intention to sell up, its finance minister, Kristian Jensen, said.
“Norway’s exit marks the beginning of a new epoch in the company’s history. But that does not change the Danish state’s position on ownership of SAS. There is still political support for state ownership of SAS,” he told the Danish news agency Ritzau.
Aviation analyst Hans Jørgen Elnæs suggests that the price could have been higher.
“The state probably did not have a large enough single buyer in place to buy the lot,” he told the Norwegian broadcaster NRK.
“They also added that shares amounting to a minimum of €100,000 could be purchased, which indicates that several financial institutions were involved. There may be other airlines in the mix.”
Elnæs also said that Denmark had been interested in strengthening its ownership in SAS for some time, “due to the fact that the Danish state controls most of Copenhagen Airport. I think they are interested in getting a tighter grip on SAS to ensure that the airline remains a long-term and major player at Kastrup.”