The Week That Was: Takeover fever: why the City <i>does</i> like Monday

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The Independent Online

Traders started the week on "Takeover Monday" after deals worth more than £7.8bn hit the market. Later in the week, electricity suppliers, property developers and media groups were all up for grabs.

Getting the ball rolling were Bill Gates and Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, who launched a $3.7bn (£1.9bn) bid for the luxury hotels chain Four Seasons Hotels.

Later in the week came revelations that Spain's Iberdrola was in merger discussions with ScottishPower. Also raising eyebrows was NTL's move to acquire broadcaster ITV.

Never far from the takeover action is Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, which teamed up with Goldman Sachs to launch a €4bn (£2.7bn) bid for the forklift unit of Germany's Linde. US-based OSI Restaurant Partners, which operates the Outback Steakhouse, agreed to a $3bn takeover by private equity groups Bail Capital and Catterton Partners.

The deals just kept coming. Gala Coral put its hand up for the Tote in a deal valuing the state-owned betting business at more than £400m. The board of fashion retailer Austin Reed recommended shareholders accept a 144p-a-share offer from Guy Naggar, the serial retail investor, while the takeover battle for infrastructure group John Laing took a new twist when fund manager Henderson increased its bid to £1bn, beating the £958m on the table from German insurer Allianz.

The food sector also featured, with Surrey-based Dairy Crest agreeing to buy the St Hubert French and Italian spreads business from Uniq for £248m. Dairy Crest also reported a 25 per cent increase in interim pre-tax profits to £31.8m.

Meanwhile, a fresh bid for the London Stock Exchange failed to surface, but traders still pushed the company's shares to record levels in anticipation that a bid from US exchange Nasdaq is on the way. Proving why it's popular, the LSE reported that first-half operating profits rose 60 per cent to £81.3m.

Wanting to sit out the takeover party was housebuilder Crest Nicholson, which rejected a £660m bid from a joint venture vehicle set up by HBOS and Scottish entrepreneur Tom Hunter.

The other big news of the week was the huge profit notched up by Marks & Spencer. The retailer's shares hit a record high of 697.5p as it revealed an interim pre-tax profit jump of 32.2 per cent to £405.1m.

Not as upbeat was the UK's largest brewer, Scottish & Newcastle, which said in a trading update that its earnings would be hit by smoking bans and that the UK beer market was suffering from a "depressed" consumer environment.

But fellow brewer SABMiller said interim pre-tax profit had climbed from $1.1bn to $1.4bn and Punch Taverns, the UK's biggest pub firm, revealed its annual pre-tax profits had jumped 21 per cent to £250m.

In telecommunications, BT revealed that competition had squeezed its share of the broadband market from 30 per cent to 25 per cent during the three months to 30 September. It took the shine off a strong half-year result, with BT's pre-tax profit up 26 per cent to £1.24bn.