Merrill Lynch hopes to make SNC bid soon

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The Independent Online

Merrill Lynch, the US investment bank, is hoping to announce an offer for Smith New Court that will precede or coincide with the stockbroker's annual meeting tomorrow.

According to sources, Merrill's top executives were in discussion over their strategy all day yesterday and at one point considered making an announcement.

Merrill had previously hoped to make an offer that had the prior approval of NM Rothschild, Smith's near-26 per cent shareholder, but is now considering going ahead without that approval. "That way at least we will put some heat on NM Rothschild to make a decision as to whether to accept or not," one source said.

Commerzbank remains very much still in the frame as an alternative bidder. The German bank also appears to be keen to have an offer ready, if at all possible, for tomorrow's meeting of Smith New Court shareholders at which the chairman, Michael Marks, will be under pressure to give a full statement about his firm's discussions with possible suitors.

Negotations to make an offer for Smith New Court, expected to be pitched at a price of at least 550p a share have taken longer than previously expected because of the problems involved in gaining prior approval from Sir Evelyn de Rothschild.