Merger partner sought for Norweb

UNITED UTILITIES, the water and electricity company for the North- west, is seeking a merger partner for the supply business of Norweb and is also planning flotations for its telecoms and Vertex service divisions, writes Michael Harrison.

Derek Green, the outgoing chief executive of United Utilities, said it aimed to double its electricity and gas customer base to five million. He did not rule out a merger with the energy supply arm of National Power, which has just taken over Midlands Electricity's supply business, and the gas supplier, Calortex.

United Utilities pulled out of a full-blown merger with National Power earlier this year after failing to agree on their respective shareholdings in the combined business. It had also been warned the deal would probably be referred to the Competition Commission.

Mr Green said that Vertexcould be worth pounds 600m-pounds 700m in three-to-five years while Norweb Telecom could be worth pounds 2bn in two years, based on current valuations in the telecoms sector. A year ago United Utilities was offered pounds 180m for a 60 per cent stake in the business. Pre-tax profits last year were 12 per cent higher, at pounds 488m.

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