Analysts to grill Bock on Lonrho intentions

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The Independent Online
KEY City analysts are to hold a meeting early in the new year with Dieter Bock, the German businessman who has taken a strategic stake in Lonrho.

The analysts want to discuss with Mr Bock his intentions as an investor in Lonrho, the troubled international trading conglomerate headed by Tiny Rowland. The City remains perplexed by the motivation of the obscure property man who has decided to buy 6.5 per cent of Mr Rowland's personal holding and to support an pounds 181m cash-raising operation by the company.

Mr Bock's support for the cash-raising deal could increase his stake to between 9 and 19 per cent. He also has an option over the bulk of Mr Rowland's stake, which could leave him with as much as 25 per cent of the Lonrho equity after three years.

Apart from ascertaining Mr Bock's ultimate intentions, The analysts also want to know what role he would play on the Lonrho board if he took up an invitation to join it.

Ahead of his deal with Mr Rowland, announced earlier this month, Mr Bock held no shares in Lonrho. But the proposal with Mr Rowland was concluded in the past three months or so, after Mr Bock had visited Lonrho's headquarters in the City and Mr Rowland's home.

The meeting between analysts and Mr Bock will take place ahead of the closure of the rights issue on 15 January.

Gencor, the South African mining group, has so far denied attempting to counter-bid Mr Bock's offer to buy Mr Rowland's shareholding in Lonrho and says it is interested only in taking over Lonrho's 73 per cent stake in its Western Platinum mine in South Africa. Gencor holds the minority stake.

Genting, the Malaysian casino operator which owns 7.3 per cent of Lonrho, is thought to be interested only in Lonrho's hotel and leisure interests, although it has been rumoured to be standing in the market to buy shares at a discount to Lonrho's 85p a share rights issue.

Analysts yesterday discounted the suggestion that Lonrho's fire sale of assets might include the Observer, as the newspaper is making annual losses of at least pounds 10m.

But the main centre of attention centred on the plans of Mr Rowland, 75, and whether he intended to retire as a result of his links with Mr Bock. 'Most unlikely,' one analyst said.