Granada backs away from bid for Yorkshire

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Granada threw its "phoney bid" for control of ITV neighbour Yorkshire Tyne-Tees into confusion yesterday after it apparently ruled itself out of launching a takeover offer for at least three months. Yorkshire's shares tumbled 117.5p to pounds 11.62p, having dipped as low as pounds 11.05p at one stage, as the long expected bid, an open secret in television circles, seemed to have been at least put on hold.

The timing of an unexpected statement from Granada only 24 hours before today's announcement of full-year figures from United News & Media, another potential bidder for Yorkshire, added a further twist to what one analyst described as "an elaborate poker game". Granada denied it was talking Yorkshire's price lower to secure a cheaper takeover price.

Its statement followed hot on the heels of remarks earlier this week from Yorkshire chairman, Ward Thomas, that any bid for the company would have to be pitched at pounds 17 a share or more to succeed. Granada has expressed privately that paying more than pounds 13.20 a share would result in dilution of its own earnings.

Although the statement was worded in a way that the Takeover Panel might normally insist precluded a bid for at least three months, it included caveats which analysts said yesterday might leave the door open for an offer.

Granada's statement ran: "Reports of the possibility of Granada making an offer for Yorkshire at or above the current share price are misplaced: Granada confirms that, unless there is a material change in Yorkshire's circumstances (including an offer from a third party), it has no current intention of making an offer for Yorkshire."

Analysts said that wording, almost certainly cleared with the Takeover Panel, would allow Granada to return if United News & Media or any other television company were to launch a bid. United, which owns 14 per cent of Yorkshire compared with Granada's 27 per cent holding, also owns warrants, which if exercised could take its stake above 18 per cent.

Speculation also surrounded Yorkshire's intentions towards Laser, the advertising sales business owned by Granada which sells commercial slots for both its owner and Yorkshire. A mooted end to Laser's contract with Yorkshire would almost certainly be seen as a material change in Yorkshire's circumstances, analysts said, and could be used as a pretext for a bid.

The statement went on to say: "The current Yorkshire share price already reflects not only a significant bid premium caused by continuing speculation, but also expectations of a substantial reduction in Yorkshire's annual licence bid payment, realisation of which is far from certain."