Laidlaw, which has three directors on Attwoods' board, is disillusioned about its investment. Jim Bullock, Laidlaw's president, said: 'Our investment since 1990 has consistently underperformed. And we don't see any quick turnround.'
Attwoods lost pounds 66m in 1992/93. Analysts expect pounds 20m of profits for the year to July, which would still not be enough to cover a maintained dividend of 5p.
Such is Laidlaw's keenness to get out of Attwoods that Browning, the second-biggest waste company in the world, stands to profit even if its bid is trumped by a rival offer. Laidlaw has irrevocably agreed to sell its stake to Browning for 109p a share - about 20p a share less than it paid.
Laidlaw has also agreed to buy Attwoods' portable sanitation and accommodation operations in Germany for dollars 56.8m if a buyer cannot be found at a higher price.
The bid, which Attwoods said was opportunistic, partly reflects the consolidation taking place in the highly fragmented British waste market, and Browning's determination to strengthen its presence in Florida.
About 65 per cent of Attwoods' revenues come from the south- eastern states where Waste Management, the world leader, has a strong operation and would almost certainly run foul of anti- trust legislation if it made a rival bid.
Browning's move caught investors by surprise, not least Ken Foreman, chief executive of Attwoods, who was asleep in Florida at 2.30am British time when Bill Ruckelshaus, head of Browning, called to tell him about the bid.
The market was also wrongfooted, though a bid was signalled earlier this year when Laidlaw made it clear it had had enough. While Attwoods' share price has been supported by bid hopes, the stock market was convinced yesterday that Browning would have to raise the ante. The shares rose 11p to 120p.
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