Bid talks sink Stanhope shares

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SHARES in Stanhope Properties fell to a low for the year of 10p yesterday, before closing down 5p at 14p, after the company said it was in talks about a possible bid at or below market price.

The share price when the statement was made was 19p, which would capitalise the company at pounds 31.5m. Shares hit a high of 50p earlier this year.

Chief executive Stuart Lipton confirmed a report in the Independent on Sunday that the company was negotiating with a number of parties who had expressed interest in making a big investment in, or an offer for, Stanhope.

The company is burdened with debt, and its banking arrangements expire on 19 December, unless extended. Discussions with the banks, led by Barclays, are continuing.

Mr Lipton, who has been trying to restructure Stanhope's finances for the past year, said the company had two options - to refinance or to accept a bid. At the end of March, Stanhope's borrowings were pounds 135m.

British Land, which with George Soros's Quantum Fund owns 29.9 per cent of Stanhope, confirmed its continuing interest in the company, but denied it had made an offer. John Weston Smith, the finance director, said: 'We have had no accounts (for the year to the end of June) and there is a lot we would need to know. If others are involved, Stanhope might be wise to chat to us. We have not made overtures.'

Stanhope stressed that talks were at a preliminary stage. It said: 'It is too early. . . for the board to conclude whether a recapitalisation would be more or less beneficial for shareholders than the terms that might be available from a possible offer.'

British Land has made no secret of its desire to own the prestigious Broadgate and Ludgate developments, owned jointly by Stanhope and Rosehaugh, which is in receivership.

Roger Oldfield, of KPMG Peat Marwick and receiver to Rosehaugh, said he was continuing to hold the half-share and waiting for occupancy levels to rise in the Ludgate development. Broadgate is 97- 98 per cent let, Mr Lipton said.