As many as 10 bidders for Norske Skog

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Media buzz around Oslo-based forestry firm Norske Skog has tapered off in recent weeks, but now comes news that between five and 10 “serious” bidders have emerged for its plants and operations. Chief executive Lars Sperre expects a new owner to be announced by the end of the month.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Thursday that the deadline for bids has passed in what Sperre calls “phase two” of the bidding process. The venerable but long-troubled forestry firm filed for bankruptcy just before Christmas after years of debt negotiations failed. The company is profitable and attractive as a going concern, but has been saddled with heavy debt stemming from its international expansion period 20 years ago. Investment banks Citibank and Evercore have been working to sell the company paper plants.

Former chairman Christen Sveaas, who’d been viewed as a potential saviour, negotiated for months to ward off the bankruptcy, but when the company’s largest lender, Oceanwood Capital, allied itself with Norwegian industrialist Kjell Inge Røkke and his Aker conglomerate, Sveaas’ hopes ran out. Aker and Oceanwood had a plan to force a bankruptcy and then bid for the plants that were being auctioned off.

It’s not certain that Røkke will prevail in his own bid to take over Norske Skog’s plants, since interest in them reportedly is high, boosted by higher prices for paper. Sperre told DN that interest has remained high, “with a handfull of large international players using considerable resources to evaluate purchase potential in phase two of the process that’s gone on during the past month.” staff