The Brazilian steel maker CSN may be in a position to table a formal £4.5bn offer for Corus, its Anglo-Dutch rival, as early as the middle of next week.
CSN, which announced on Friday that it might trump a 455p-a-share offer from Tata of India with a bid worth 475p, has already begun due diligence. CSN's chairman, Benjamin Steinbruch, met his opposite number at Corus, Jim Leng, in London over the weekend.
In an indication of how serious CSN is and how quickly it plans to move, Mr Steinbruch has remained in the UK to co- ordinate the bid. Senior CSN executives are talking to Corus's unions about the job implications of a takeover. They have also met officials from the Pensions Regulator to soothe fears that the debt-laden nature of CSN's planned bid could put pressure on the Corus pension fund, which has £13bn of liabilities.
Tata has agreed to inject £126m to close a deficit in one of the three schemes operated by Corus and increase annual employer contributions. CSN has indicated it will match these commitments if its bid goes through.
Corus shares continued to climb yesterday, breaking through the 500p barrier to close 1.5 per cent up at 502p, as dealers speculated that Tata would come back with a higher offer. Sources close to Tata said it was unlikely the Indian company would raise its bid before a formal offer was tabled by CSN. Shareholders are due to vote on the Tata offer at an extraordinary meeting on 4 December.
CSN argues its bid will safeguard jobs because, unlike Tata, it will be able to supply Corus steel plants in the UK with low-cost iron ore from its Brazilian mines.