Lasmo oil discovery in Algeria gives share price a boost: Company's defence to takeover bid from Enterprise Oil expected today amid speculation about impending counter-offer

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The Independent Online
LASMO'S share price continued its upward trend yesterday after the company announced that an oil find in Algeria could add up to 10 per cent to its reserves.

The news comes as Lasmo is expected today to publish its defence against the pounds 1.5bn bid from Enterprise Oil and speculation mounts that a counter-bid is imminent.

Lasmo said the Algerian find would produce a minimum of 324 million barrels of oil, rising to a maximum of 900 million. It estimated this would add between 5 and 10 per cent to its reserves, leaving analysts to speculate that it could be worth between 12p and 20p a Lasmo share.

Lasmo has a 25 per cent stake in the Anadarko Algeria Corporation, which has been developing three wells for about 18 months.

John Hogan, Lasmo's chief operating officer, dismissed suggestions the company had deliberately brought forward early development of the oilfield in order to bolster its defence against Enterprise.

But it helped Lasmo shares edge forward another 2p to 156p, above the value of Enterprise's all-share offer which has swung between 137p and 150p a share.

Lasmo shares touched 99p before the bid and their rise has been helped by growing speculation of a counter-offer, with Atlantic Richfield, British Gas and Elf top of the list of potential rival bidders. Enterprise has offered 27 new Enterprise 'A' shares and 12 Enterprise warrants for every 80 Lasmo shares, valuing the target at about pounds 1.488bn. A dividend of 3p will be paid on the Enterprise 'A' shares for each of the next three years.

This is equivalent to the 1p dividend which Lasmo has said would be the most it could pay until its finances improved. Enterprise has ruled out a cash sweetener.

The takeover would create the world's largest exploration and production group, worth about pounds 4bn. But Lasmo says it has the strength to exploit its own assets whereas Enterprise faces difficulties in finding areas of future growth. Joe Darby, Lasmo's chief executive, said: 'This contrived paper offer would dilute the significant growth potential for Lasmo shareholders.

'Enterprise's arguments for the bid are driven by size, and bringing the two companies together adds no value for shareholders,' he said.

Analysts say Lasmo has been treading water since its disastrous pounds 1bn takover of Ultramar in 1991, which sent debts spiralling upwards. But the bid has galvanised the company which, despite the critics, has good assets in Indonesia and a 25 per cent share in a pounds 1bn development in Liverpool Bay.

Rudolph Agnew, who fended off a bid from Minorco when he ran Consolidated Gold Fields, has been appointed chairman of Lasmo four weeks early.