Dutch to lift stake in Blenheim

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The Independent Online
Dutch publishing group VNU plans to lift its stake in exhibitions organiser Blenheim to a blocking 29.9 per cent following the withdrawal of rival bidder Reed-Elsevier.

This weekend, however, Lord Hollick's United News and Media, which first prompted bid speculation back in June, was understood to be still reviewing its next moves despite speculation that it had also pulled out.

"We are still reviewing our options. They certainly haven't ruled out a bid," one source close to United said.

Reed-Elsevier's move follows the dramatic intervention of rival Dutch publishing group VNU, which snapped up a 14.99 per cent stake in a surprise dawn raid last week.

This weekend sources close to Reed indicated that it was unwilling to increase its offer to 500p a share, the price VNU paid, which would value Blenheim at pounds 470m.

But they did not rule out acquiring parts of the company should it fall to VNU.

A VNU spokesman confirmed it was considering lifting its holding to nearly 30 per cent - the maximum allowed before a full bid - when the seven-day moratorium for further purchases under Takeover Panel rules ends this Tuesday.

It does not, however, plan to launch a full takeover immediately unless a rival emerges. "We are prepared to pay a full price to secure a long- term holding in Blenheim. We believe we got a good deal," company spokesman Maarten Schikker said.

Throughout, the Blenheim board has resisted accepting any offer below 500p a share. In all, the board controls a 40 per cent stake, including founder and chairman Neville Buch's 6.2 per cent and French shareholder Generale des Eaux's 15.4.

VNU's intervention was prompted by a desire to protect a co-production deal last year with Blenheim for information technology exhibitions using its stable of IT magazines in the UK, which include Computing and Personal Computer World.

The joint venture was seen as key to preserving its IT position against growing competition from Reed and US rival Ziff-Davis.

Blenheim shares closed at 484p on Friday, a 174p rise since June. Analysts believe that Reed was expecting to pay 480p a share for the company.

Blenheim said last week that it was still in discussions with a number of parties, including United and a group of US investors.