Dolls encounter new rivals in scrabble for JW Spear: Toymaker rejects pounds 57m bid from owner of Fisher-Price

THE takeover fight for JW Spear, the maker of the Scrabble board game, may become more complicated as it emerged yesterday that other toy companies may be prepared to top the bids already made by Hasbro and Mattel.

Other possible suitors for Spear are said to include Ideal, the French toy company owned by Playmates in Hong Kong, Ravensburger in Germany, and Bandai in Japan.

Spear yesterday rejected the pounds 57m bid, worth pounds 10 a share, from Mattel, the owner of Fisher-Price toys and Barbie dolls. The rejection comes just three weeks after Spear welcomed Mattel's intervention to stop Hasbro, another US company, from taking it over with a pounds 9-a-share offer.

Hasbro, maker of Sindy and Action man dolls and a dominant force in the UK board game market, was almost the victor with its offer until Spear's directors asked Baring Brothers, its merchant banking adviser, to find another suitor.

A 26.7 per cent shareholding and irrevocable undertakings from Spear family trustees of another 24.9 per cent formed the platform for Hasbro's bid. The trustees, however, have since been released by the High Court from their obligations to Hasbro and have yet to decide whether to accept Mattel's offer.

Philip Harris, a trustee, said yesterday: 'We are sitting back to see what appropriate steps to take. It is up to Hasbro, Mattel and Spear to fight it out.'

Spear's rejection statement said: 'The directors of Spear intend to take no action in respect of their own beneficial holdings and, with the help of their advisers, continue to seek offers which reflect fair and reasonable value for Spear.'

It is believed that Baring contacted some of the world's leading toy companies at the end of last month to find a rival bidder to stop Hasbro from walking away with Spear with its pounds 47m bid.

The first closing date for Mattel's offer is 11 July. Mattel said it could not comment on Spear's decision until it had received the rejection document, which was only posted to shareholders yesterday evening.

Hasbro's options include appealing against the High Court ruling in favour of the trustees, or increasing its bid terms.

Another possible twist in the bid could come with a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Spear has a 16.4 per cent share of the UK board game market while Hasbro controls nearly 57 per cent through products such as Trivial Pursuit, Twister and Mousetrap.

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