FRANKFURT, Sept 14 (Reuters) - U.S.-based recreational vehicle maker Thor Industries has emerged as the leading bidder for German family-owned peer Erwin Hymer Group in a deal valuing the company at more than 2 billion euros ($2.34 billion), people close to the matter said.
Talks with Thor are advancing, but not yet exclusive, the people said. They added that the negotiations could still fall apart and Hymer's owners could instead opt for an initial public offering.
The offer of Thor - which would be able to reap synergies through a combination of its own business with Hymer - exceeded that of runner-up Centerbridge, a private equity group, one of the people said, adding that a decision is expected this month.
Hymer, Thor and Centerbridge all declined to comment.
Hymer's owners, which initially put a stake in the company on the block seeking funds for Hymer to invest in North America and Asia, originally only planned to divest a minority, but have opened up to the idea of selling control.
Last month, they mandated Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and Citi as so called global coordinators of a potential initial public offering, with Macquarie acting as so called IPO advisor.
Hymer is expected to post earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of more than 250 million euros this year, and of roughly 300 million in 2019.
Thor and U.S. peer Winnebago trade at less than 7 times their expected EBITDA, while French peer Trigano trades at roughly 9 times. ($1 = 0.8565 euros) (Reporting by Arno Schuetze and Alexander Hübner Editing by Mark Heinrich)