Liberty International set to hit takeover trail

Liberty International, the financial services to property group chaired by Donald Gordon, said yesterday it was ready to use its pounds 2.1bn capital base to expand its financial services businesses.

Earlier this year, the group, formerly known as TransAtlantic Holdings, launched Liberty International Pensions as part of its "Millennium Project" to relaunch the group into the world financial services industry following the sale its stake in Sun Life.

But David Fischel, managing director, yesterday played down the prospects of an imminent big purchase."We could accommodate any sized acquisition, whether pounds 1bn, pounds 2bn or pounds 100m, it doesn't really matter. But just because we have the cash doesn't mean to say we are going to make an acquisition."

Even so, the shares dipped 12p to 468p yesterday as the market absorbed the possibility of a big buy.

Mr Fischel said the group was "always opportunistic" if the right things came up, but it would be sticking to its existing businesses of shopping centres, commercial property and financial services.

In 1995 the group received a net pounds 400m from selling a half share in Sun Life, the UK insurer, to UAP of France, and Mr Fischel said it now had in effect an ungeared balance sheet.

His comments came as Liberty, which is controlled by Liberty Life Association, the South African insurer, reported a 7 per cent rise in underlying pre- tax profits to pounds 100m for the year to December, before taking account of the pounds 110m profit on the Sun Life disposal. A final dividend of 8.75p raises the total for last year by 10 per cent to 16p. Net assets per share rose 13 per cent to 445p and would have been nearly 500p if the market value of its Capital Shopping Centres subsidiary was included, according to Liberty.

Mr Fischel said in financial services the group would not stray beyond its three core areas of pensions, unit trusts and offshore savings.

Earlier in the week, it was announced that Capital Group International, part of the big US fund management group of the same name, had paid pounds 5m for a 10 per cent stake in Liberty International Pensions, the same size stake as that taken by the BT pension scheme last year.

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