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FirstGroup ends US journey with £3.3bn EQT Infrastructure deal

Sky News logo Sky News 22/04/2021 Mark Kleinman, City editor

Tens of thousands of American yellow school buses will be given a new owner on Friday when their London-listed parent announces that it has offloaded them in a deal worth about $4.6bn (£3.3bn).

a school bus parked in a parking lot: First Student operates roughly 43,000 yellow school buses across the US © Getty First Student operates roughly 43,000 yellow school buses across the US

Sky News has learnt that FirstGroup, which also runs bus and train services in Britain, will announce to the stock market that it has found a buyer for its US-based First Student and First Transit operations.

The new owner is to be EQT Infrastructure, which is affiliated to the Swedish-based private equity firm EQT - whose interest in the business was revealed by Sky News earlier this year.

Banking sources said on Thursday evening that the deal would exceed earlier price expectations and pave the way for hundreds of millions of pounds to be returned to FirstGroup shareholders.

Part of the proceeds will be used to pay down debt, with a chunk of the capital received also likely to be handed to FirstGroup's pension schemes.

The announcement will come more than a year after FirstGroup formally kicked off the auction, which faced significant disruption as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

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First Student operates roughly 43,000 yellow school buses across the US, while First Transit carries hundreds of millions of Americans across its public transport network each year.

The London-listed company came under pressure to offload its US businesses from activist investors, and is understood to be planning to kick off the sale of its Greyhound arm once the deal with EQT Infrastructure is concluded.

FirstGroup has been advised by Rothschild, while Morgan Stanley is thought to have advised EQT Infrastructure.

Neither side would comment ahead of a formal announcement.

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