Bidding war for United Biscuits starts as rivals declare interest

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THE FIRST round of bidding for United Biscuits, the UK-based KP nuts and McVities biscuits maker, began in earnest yesterday as the two would-be buyers publicly declared their interests in the company.

The first move was made by a consortium comprising Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst, the private investment firm, and Nabisco, the US-based food giant. The two groups teamed up to offer pounds 1.16bn, or 245p a share in cash, through a newly-formed vehicle, Burlington Biscuits, in a deal that has been recommended by UB's independent directors.

An hour after the Hicks-Nabisco bid was announced, a French-led consortium, including Paribas Affaires Industrielles, the private equity arm of BNP- Paribas, and Danone, the snacks and yoghurt maker, confirmed its intention to enter a bidding war. A spokesman for the group, known as Finalrealm, said: "We would be looking to create some daylight between our offer and the one on the table."

A counter offer is expected to be announced today and analysts say the most likely level for the bid is about 160p a share. UB shares closed up 19.5p at 254.5p.

Finalrealm is thought to have been surprised that Burlington's bid was agreed, believing that its own offer, thought to be worth about 242.5p a share, would be recommended by the UB board.

If the Burlington deal goes ahead, Hicks Muse will sell its European biscuit brands to the enlarged company for pounds 80m and will take control of three quarters of Burlington. Nabisco will get a 23 per cent stake in the venture in exchange for its Spanish and Portuguese businesses. Burlington intends to retain UB's management team.

Outlook, page 17