* FTel has not gone beyond expression of interest -CEO Richard
* Permira, PAI, FSI said to also be weighing bids -Bloomberg
* Permira, PAI decline to comment; FSI unavailable for comment
PARIS, Jan 14 (Reuters) - France Telecom would consider taking over the subsea cables business of Alcatel-Lucent, Chief Executive Stephane Richard said on Monday, as the telecoms gear maker seeks to ease its debt burden.
Loss-making Alcatel is racing to cut costs and reduce cash burn after being hit by competition from low-cost Chinese rivals and lower spending on network gear by global telecom operators.
France Telecom has expressed its interest in principle in Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN), though “for the moment it hasn’t gone any further”, CEO Richard said, adding that France Telecom has been looking for months at how ASN and its FT Marine unit could work better together.
Bloomberg later reported that private equity funds Permira and PAI were weighing bids, as was French sovereign wealth fund FSI.
Spokespeople from Permira and PAI declined to comment, while FSI was unavailable for comment.
French daily newspaper Les Echos reported last month that the government was trying to arrange a deal in which France Telecom would acquire part of Alcatel-Lucent’s subsea cable unit, which was seen as a “strategic” asset.
The government was also mulling a deal in which the French FSI sovereign wealth fund would buy a stake in Alcatel-Lucent’s cablemaking unit, according to the paper.
Richard also said on Monday that France Telecom was gearing up for a “difficult” year, adding that the economy would in all likelihood slow down, at least in Europe where France Telecom makes 90 percent of sales.