Bottom Line: Trustees' dilemma

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BILL HEILIGBRODT likes to pretend he's just a simple Texan boy who tied his horse up while he came indoors to run a hugely successful dollars 2.4bn business. But the alacrity with which institutions rushed to sell their shares in Great Southern to him yesterday suggests a shrewder understanding of the markets than he would claim.

Pitching SCI's offer at 680p, 14 per cent higher than the previous bid, 24 times last year's earnings and three times sales, puts the trustees who indirectly control 56 per cent of Great Southern in a tricky position. They may not want to sell for sentimental reasons but legally they may have little choice.

If any more institutions decide that SCI's offer represents good value for their shares in a business with uncertain growth prospects, the trustees may find it difficult to argue that an offer worth almost 10 times the value of the last recorded intra-family trade is inadequate.

Mr Heiligbrodt, who has deep pockets, won't mind paying top dollar for a secure launching pad for his UK ambitions. With almost half the non-Field-controlled shares already in the saddle-bag, roping in the rest looks an increasingly simple affair.

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