Granada tipped to raise stakes in Forte battle

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The Independent Online
Granada is expected to raise its pounds 3.2bn bid for Forte within the next 10 days, but only by a relatively modest amount of pounds 200-pounds 300m, sources close to the company said. The higher bid could come as early 8 January, six days after Forte's final defence document is published.

A final decision on the sweetener will be made next week, and will depend on how Granada's shares perform in the interim. The initial offer is for four Granada shares plus pounds 23.25 for every 15 Forte shares. Granada shares closed last night at 645p.

While lower than the pounds 600m sweetener called for by some City analysts, the increased bid will be seen as a sign that the television and leisure company is not yet prepared to abandon its hostile takeover.

Granada declined to comment on its intentions. But an insider said: "Our resolve is cast-iron. Our intention is to buy the whole of Forte."

Indications of a higher bid came as the two companies traded criticisms over tactics and strategy in the increasingly bitter struggle. Forte again lashed out at what it calls Granada's "stalling growth and conglomerate- driven" strategy. It also unveiled higher profit forecasts for the year ending 31 January 1996, saying pre-tax profits would be not less than pounds 190m, compared to forecasts of pounds 185m published in the initial defence document on 4 December.

The company said that higher occupancy rates in London, along with a stronger performance at its provincial hotels, were behind the better- than-expected profit.

Granada dismissed the new figures, saying that they remained 7 per cent lower than five years ago, and represented only a 7.4 per cent return on net assets.

"This only underlines what we've been saying all along," Gerry Robinson, Granada's chief executive, said. "Forte is failing to achieve a decent return on its assets and is not delivering real value for its shareholders."

Granada is expected to remain on the sidelines until Forte unveils its final defence document on Tuesday. That document is expected to include a revaluation of Forte's hotels operations, as well as details on how the company intends to reward shareholders following the proposed pounds 1bn sale of the restaurant business to Whitbread.

It is believed the document will also reveal plans to distribute Forte's 68 per cent stake in the Savoy Group of hotels directly to Forte shareholders.

Following publication of the defence document, Granada is expected to step up efforts to convince shareholders to accept its bid, principally through meetings with institutional investors and analysts.

It promises to provide further details of how it can enhance Forte's profitability by pounds 100m a year, following the acquisition.

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