BICC defiant on Wassall bid

LEADING SHAREHOLDERS in BICC, the construction-to-cables group, yesterday backed the board's decision to rebuff a pounds 379m informal takeover approach from Wassall.

The investors dismissed the offer, rejected by BICC on Thursday, as "ridiculous" and "hopelessly inadequate" and said Wassall would have to bid at least pounds 500m.

The tension between the two groups rose last night after the BICC chief executive, Alan Jones, refused to meet his Wassall counterpart Chris Miller to negotiate the terms of an agreed takeover. Mr Jones said he would not talk to Wassall unless it tabled a formal bid well above the current 90p- a-share offer.

"They will not get us to sit around the table unless they put an offer on the table which the board thinks is fair to our shareholders," Mr Jones said.

His defiance was bolstered by a number of investors who said the Wassall offer fell far short of the real value of the group, which last year had sales of pounds 3.9bn but lost pounds 94m before tax.

They said that, although the share price plummeted nearly 80 per cent in 1998 as sales were savaged by a downturn in the cables market, the company has sold its worst businesses to focus on profitable operations such as the construction subsidiary Balfour Beatty. "An offer of 90p is ridiculous. BICC has done badly in the past but is worth more than that, possibly up to 140p," said one investor.

Shares in BICC closed 12.5p up at 94.5p, reflecting hopes of a higher offer. Wassall, which owns 9 per cent of BICC, said it would meet BICC's major shareholders this week.

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