Lasmo denies Agnew is to take back seat: Chairman stays at home while executives visit US shareholders

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The Independent Online
LASMO yesterday rejected reports that cracks have appeared in its board and that its new chairman, Rudolph Agnew, does not get on with some institutional investors.

The company, fighting a pounds 1.6bn bid from Enterprise Oil, said Mr Agnew's decision not to join the executive team on a tour of US shareholders last week was simply a division of labour.

As both sides prepared their final thrusts before the bid closes on Friday, pressure has been put on Enterprise following a profits warning last Friday by its 23.25 per cent stakeholder Elf Aquitaine, the French oil giant.

Elf is believed to be under intense pressure to sell all or part of its holding to help reduce debts. Analysts said a sale by Elf, which owns 10 per cent directly and the rest through a joint venture, would undermine Enterprise's share price and devalue the benefits for Lasmo shareholders who accept the all-paper bid.

Executives and their advisers will be concentrating on UK institutional shareholders this week, with Philips & Drew Fund Management a key target. PDFM owns nearly 16 per cent of Lasmo and 5 per cent of Enterprise, although Mr Agnew said he did not expect to be at a meeting with the fund manager on Wednesday.

Advisers at Enterprise expressed surprise that Mr Agnew would not be seeing such a crucial shareholder. 'He has something of a confrontational manner and some of the feedback we get is that some shareholders are not interested in seeing him,' said an Enterprise source.

Mr Agnew said: 'The Americans wanted to see the chief executive, not the chairman, so I stayed to handle things this end. Last week I saw four institutions and I have already seen PDFM.'

He believed Elf was preparing to sell out of Enterprise, but the French company had agreed not to do anything before the bid was over.

Lasmo said news that the Takeover Panel had stopped it from voting a 2.57 per cent block of shares that it owns in itself was not unexpected.

Enterprise is this week expected to start buying its permitted 10 per cent stake in Lasmo, a move that could cost it up to pounds 150m.

A third independent broker has come out against the bid. Hoare Govett has joined Kleinwort Benson and Yamaichi in the belief that Lasmo has good chances of recovery. .