Hicks, Muse trumps rival bid for Hillsdown

THE BID BATTLE for Hillsdown Holdings looked to be drawing to a conclusion yesterday after US buyout specialist Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst said it will increase its offer for the Typhoo tea and Chivers Hartley jam maker to at least pounds 537m.

The offer will be pitched at a minimum of 147p per share, trumping a rival bid of 145p per share from Candover Investments last week. Hicks, Muse was also buying Hillsdown shares heavily in the market yesterday and now controls 29.87 per cent of the company's issued share capital.

Candover declined to comment on its next move, though industry experts said yesterday that Hicks, Muse's latest bid may prove a knock-out blow. Non-executive directors of Hillsdown are expected to recommend the US offer, if it remains the highest. "Our sole objective is to do the best deal we can do for shareholders,'' said Hillsdown chairman, Peter Jacobs.

The increase in the bid price continues an auction process that has left industry experts incredulous. Hillsdown has been seen as a rag- bag of underperforming food interests whose shares were trading at 80p only last month. The shares closed 1.5p higher yesterday at 147.5p.