Asian billionaire takes control of Rank

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The Independent Online

A group controlled by Malaysian billionaire Quek Leng Chan has gained majority control of Rank, the operator of Mecca Bingo, in a £524m deal.

However, analysts voiced surprise and disappointment at investors for "surrendering" shares so cheaply.

Mr Chan's Guoco company has received an additional 15.6 per cent of acceptances for its 150p a share offer, which means it now controls 56.4 per cent of Rank's shares.

Guoco confirmed it will retain Rank's stock market listing and said: "Guoco looks forward to continuing its productive relationship with Rank and the continued growth and development of Rank's business."

The offer price per share implies an enterprise value price of £524m for Rank. However, the company last month rejected a £586m offer, also worth 150p a share, which it said "significantly undervalues Rank and its prospects".

Nick Batram, an analyst at Peel Hunt, said: "The 15.6 per cent acceptances came as a surprise to us." James Cooke, at Panmure Gordon, added: "This is a very disappointing outcome and we wonder which shareholders considered 150p a share a fair price to surrender their shares, compared to our takeout estimate of 248p a share."

He said the implied enterprise value of £524m "does not even represent fair value" for the casino division, which it valued at £593m.

"While Guoco said this was not a hostile move, we failed to see how it could not be interpreted as one," he added.

"Investors with long memories will remember a similar scenario involving Guoco when it bought Thistle Hotels in 2003. The Thistle chief executive was then Ian Burke, now CEO of Rank."