Care First rejects Bupa's pounds 241m bid

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Bupa yesterday launched a hostile pounds 241m takeover bid for Care First, the nursing homes group, after the two sides failed to reach agreement on price. Care First's board voted unanimously last night to spurn the 150p per share cash offer from Bupa, the health insurance giant, and said it had received "expressions of interest from other parties."

Bupa said its price was a full and fair one and that it had canvassed support from investors representing "well-over 30 per cent of Care First's shareholders." By the close of dealings yesterday, Bupa had received firm and irrevocable acceptances from shareholders representing 11.8 per cent of Care First's equity. Care First's shares closed 12p higher at 153.5p.

Peter Jacob, chief executive of Bupa, said the group "could find no-one else who expressed a serious interest in buying Care First." He added: "We have the experience to grow these assets. This offer is almost a 50 per cent premium to Care First's share price before we first approached them on 10 October."

However Care First, which has been tarnished by boardroom bust-ups and a poor share price record, said it had heard from other interested parties, which could include venture capitalists. "We've not had discussions, but we've listened to what others had to say."

Possible names could include US groups Integrated Healthcare and Sun Health. However analysts were sceptical about the chances of a rival bid, wondering why another bidder had not come forward before now.

Paul Saper, industry consultant at Laing & Buisson, said: "I would be amazed. That anyone would be crazy to take on Bupa is beyond belief." Mr Saper said that Bupa's offer was a good one and should be accepted by shareholders: "Bupa has decided to pay a premium to wrap this up quickly."

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