General Cable share offer to raise £230m

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The Independent Online
General Cable, the French-owned UK cable group, is to raise up to £230m through an international share offer, valuing the company at between £557m and £646m.

The group is the second after Telewest to seek a listing in London and will be quickly followed by Nynex, which is expected to float at the end of April or early May, and by Bell Cablemedia later this year.

Philippe Galteau, managing director of General Cable, said: "We believe we are the highest quality investment in a rapidly growing industry." He cited General Cable's emphasis on telephony rather than television, and its focus on businesses and other "high-quality" customers.

General Cable, which is owned by Compagnie General des Eaux, plans to list its shares in London and on the Nasdaq exchange in the US. The offer represents 35 per cent of the company's share capital and will leave CGE with 58 per cent of the enlarged group.

The share price will be set by a process of bidding among international institutions but is expected to be between 220p and 255p. Lazard Brothers has been appointed as global co-ordinators with NatWest Securities acting as joint local managers in Britain. Trading in the shares is expected to begin on 20 April.

General Cable has interests in Yorkshire Cable, Birmingham Cable Communications and The Cable Corporation in the west London area and beyond. The franchises cover 1.7 million homes. The money raised will be used to help fund completion of the networks and to pay off £92m of debt.

Mr Galteau said the company was on the look-out for expansion opportunities but he denied plans to buy out existing partners, including Telewest, Comcast and Singapore Cable.

Of the existing franchises, the Cable Corporation and Birmingham Cable have completed about half their networks and are operating cashflow-positive.

Yorkshire Cable, the third-largest group of regional franchises, is only 18 per cent built and will not be complete until 2001. The business telephone network in Yorkshire will be finished in 1997.

City analysts said General Cable was well respected and had attractive assets. However, one said the expected pricing of the offer appeared to value the company relatively highly compared with Telewest and with Videotron, a UK cable company seeking a Nasdaq listing. Shares in Telewest, which raised about £360m in November, are below the offer price of 182p. Some industry observers say the performance of its shares was hit by a sharp drop in the Dow just after trading began in New York, and a rush of shares back to the UK.

Mr Galteau insisted General Cable had much to differentiate it from the rest of the sector. "We are market-led and the greatest market opportunities are in telecommunications."