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Enterprise Oil may enter bidding war for Saga

ENTERPRISE OIL may enter the bidding war for Norway's Saga Petroleum after France's Elf Aquitaine last week trumped an offer for Saga from the Norwegian industrial groups Norsk Hydro and Statoil.

The UK independent is among a list of foreign suitors rumoured to be interested in Saga, Continental Europe's only pure oil and gas production and exploration firm. Other possible suitors include Chevron of the US, Germany's RWE-DEA and Finland's Fortum.

A spokesman for Enterprise said yesterday: "Our policy is that we remain alive to them. We review our portfolio continually but don't comment on specific acquisitions."

"Everyone is expecting new bids," one analyst said yesterday. The Norwegian business daily, Dagens Naeringsliv, also stoked speculation with a front- page headline yesterday trumpeting: "New Saga bid expected today."

Saga, which is struggling to return to profit after a big 1998 loss triggered by low oil prices, has stated its desire to find a foreign suitor, but many analysts believe a counter-offer from Norsk Hydro, or the state oil firm Statoil, is most likely because Norway's government has stated a preference for a domestic takeover.

Last Thursday Hydro agreed to give Statoil 25 per cent of Saga's assets in return for Statoil's 20 per cent stake in Saga. Hydro's paper offer values Saga shares at 103.7 crowns (pounds 8.50). Shares in Saga yesterday peaked at 120 crowns, above Elf's 115 crowns bid, which valued Saga at pounds 1.58bn.

Norsk Hydro said it was preparing its formal bid for Saga, due in the next few days.