BOC stock rises on hopes of pounds 7bn sale

SHARES IN BOC rose strongly yesterday as hopes grew of a three- way auction for the industrial gases group which could value the company at more than pounds 7bn.

The rise in the share price - up 2.5 per cent to 1,262p - came as BOC confirmed that it had rejected a joint offer worth 1,420p a share from Air Liquide of France and Air Products of the United States. BOC also confirmed that it was no longer in talks with Praxair of the US.

A combination of BOC, Air Liquide and Air Products would have controlled 40 per cent of the world market and well over 50 per cent of the US market, presenting regulatory problems.

There is a strong suspicion that Air Liquide will come back to BOC on its own with a new set of proposals. The French company is BOC's preferred merger partner since the two groups are largely complementary.

Air Liquide had been negotiating a cash bid on its own for BOC but appears to have joined forces with Air Products after concluding BOC's advisers, JP Morgan, were playing the two bidders off against each other.

Outlook, page 19

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