BICC rebuffs pounds 379m Wassall takeover bid

BICC HAS turned down a takeover approach from Wassall, the aggressive venture capital vehicle, which valued the beleaguered construction-to- cables group at pounds 379m.

Wassall last night revealed that it had made the tentative offer, which was pitched at 90p cash for each BICC ordinary share, to BICC's board last Friday. However, BICC rebuffed the approach earlier this week, prompting Wassall to make its tentative approach public.

Chris Miller, Wassall's chief executive, said: "We believe that this proposal should be brought to the attention of BICC shareholders and continue to seek a constructive dialogue with the board of BICC."

Mr Miller said he wanted BICC's shareholders to be aware of Wassall's interest so they could make a decision about whether the price was fair.

However, BICC said the offer was inadequate and did not reflect the work that had been done in turning the company around.

Alan Jones, the chief executive, called for Wassall to make a formal offer. "They ought to put their cards on the table and say what they precisely want to do," he said. "I'm sure the shareholders would expect them to do it properly."

BICC is this morning expected to release an official statement to the Stock Exchange explaining why it rejected the offer.

The stock market will this morning have its first opportunity to respond the news, which was announced after the close of trading yesterday. BICC shares closed down 1.5p at 82p yesterday, while Wassall shares were up 2.5p at 208.5p.

Apart from its cash offer for BICC ordinary shares, Wassall is also proposing to offer pounds 1.10 worth of 10.75 per cent loan stock for each of BICC's 200m convertible preference shares.

Wassall's move follows months of speculation that it was preparing a bid for BICC. The company, which turned itself from a mini-conglomerate into a venture capital-style vehicle last year, has been building a shareholding in BICC since last autumn. It currently owns more than 9 per cent of BICC.

The bid also comes just six months after Wassall took control of TLG, the lighting group, in a pounds 353m deal after outbidding Cooper Industries, the US diversified electricals group.

Shares in BICC have more than halved in price in the past year, mainly due to sharp price falls and sliding demand for its cables businesses as a result of the Asian crisis and worldwide economic slowdown.

Last week, the group reported a pre-tax loss of pounds 94m for the year to December 1998, compared to a loss of pounds 30m in 1997. Before exceptionals, profits fell from pounds 110m to pounds 70m.

BICC shareholders have frequently pressured the company to separate its Balfour Beatty construction arm from its cables operations. However Alan Jones, the chief executive, has constantly rejected this.

Wassall last night insisted that it intended to bid for the whole of BICC. It also stressed it wanted to bid on its own.

However, analysts said that if it succeeded Wassall would be likely to find another buyer for Balfour Beatty, allowing it to concentrate on improving the cables business.