AB Ports shares soar as bidding war intensifies

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The Independent Online

The opening salvoes of a £2.6bn bidding war for Associated British Ports were fired yesterday when a consortium led by Goldman Sachs raised an offer it had agreed only a day earlier that a rival group headed by Macquarie promised to at least match.

Admiral Acquisitions, the Goldman consortium, is now prepared to pay 840p per ABP share, 30p more than the board of the ports operator accepted on Wednesday. The expectation of a still more generous bid drove ABP shares 45p higher to a record 871.5p yesterday, valuing the company at more than £2.6bn.

The rival consortium, which comprises the acquisitive Australian investment bank, the private equity group 3i, and Canadian and Australian infrastructure funds, urged ABP shareholders to hold fire in the wake of Admiral's improved offer.

ABP, led by the chief executive Bo Lerenius, was locked in talks with Macquarie yesterday and weighing both offers.

Goldman's swift increase to its offer underscored its determination not to lose out in another takeover attempt, but there were those within the City who said the move smacked of panic in the wake of a string of abortive bids this year. In the absence of any formal offer to rival its own, Goldman was in effect bidding against itself, they said.

In recent months, the investment bank has failed to land the broadcaster ITV, London & Continental Railways and the pubs group Mitchells & Butlers. Earlier this month, a Goldman consortium came off second best to the Spanish construction group Ferrovial in a £10bn bid battle for BAA, the country's biggest airports operator.

Three members of the rival consortium have also tried and failed to buy ports operators before. 3i and the Australian infrastructure fund Industry Funds Management lost out to Dubai Ports World in the £3.7bn takeover of PD Ports last year. Last month, Macquarie dropped its ambitions towards the Australian ports operator Patrick Corp after a long and bitter battle against the logistics group Toll Holdings.

Goldman's tilt at BAA was led by Simon Dingemans, one of its leading European bankers, who is also advising on the ABP bid. Another banker who advised the Goldman consortium on BAA, Rosalind Hedley-Miller at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, sits in the opposite camp this time, counselling the Macquarie group.

The late interest from the Macquarie consortium took ABP, Mr Lerenius and Goldman by surprise. The first they heard of a counterbid was on Wednesday, when it became apparent that DKW was trying to buy 100 million ABP shares for more than the 810p at which ABP had that day agreed to sell to Goldman.

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