Fund managers set to desert Northern

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The Independent Online
Leading fund managers were on the verge of deserting Northern Electric last night as the regional electricity company sought to bolster its defence against the surprise pounds 651m takeover bid by CalEnergy, the US power generator.

By the close of stock market trading, shares in Northern, which rose by 25 per cent yesterday, slipped back from 648p to 639.5p. At one stage they fell to 625.5p in early trading, 4.5p below the 630p price of the all-cash takeover offer from CE Electric, the company created by CalEnergy to launch its bid assault.

It emerged that the biggest seller in Monday's dawn raid by the US predators was Fleming Investment Management, which sold 5.4 million Northern shares, reducing its stake to 1.1 million. CE Electric had bought 12.72 per cent of Northern as the markets opened on Monday for pounds 81m. Other sellers included Mercury Asset Management, the BP Pension Fund, Sun Life and Hill Samuel.

In addition, CE was yesterday believed to have picked up a further parcel of around 700,000 Northern shares at 630p, raising its stake in the company to more than 13 per cent.

Fund managers suggested Northern's chances of remaining independent in the face of the second takeover bid for the company in two years were fading. One suggested the management team had little more to offer shareholders because pounds 500m had so far been paid out in fending off the failed pounds 1.2bn takeover bid by Trafalgar House.

David Morris, the Northern chairman, has not ruled out further special payouts to encourage investor loyalty.