Dubai wealth fund eyes property group Minerva

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The Independent Online

Minerva, the property group long rumoured to have a string of suitors, is preparing for a potential takeover bid from the sovereign wealth fund Dubai World, which officially confirmed its interest yesterday, sending the shares soaring by almost a quarter.

Limitless, a division of the Dubai fund, said that it was in the "very preliminary stages of considering its options in respect of Minerva". One analyst said a bid could be worth up to £322m.

Shares in the group soared over 24 per cent at one stage, before closing 15.9 per cent up at 116.75p.

The Dubai group had to release a statement after consultations with the Takeover Panel, following an unusual share price rise in Minerva.

Limitless said that no decision had been made over a bid. "There has been no formal approach to Minerva's board and there can be no certainty that any offer will be forthcoming," it added.

This is the first time Limitless's name had been linked with an approach to the UK group, and some professionals working on the deal expressed frustration at being forced into the open.

Minerva, which has a market capitalisation of £188m, was left bemused by the statement, and replied that it "confirms that it has received no proposal from Limitless and therefore has nothing to respond to".

A source close to the group said executives had been scratching their heads in the wake of the offer. "If you had asked us last night about Limitless there would have been some blank faces," he added.

Minerva, which owns commercial property in the City of London and Croydon, has been the focus of gossip on the trading floor since Christmas, linked to names including Songbird Estates, the company that owns the Canary Wharf tower, as well as an unnamed Gulf investor. The New York real-estate group LeFrak was also understood to have run the slide rule over Minerva this year.

A source close to the group said: "If Limitless does bid it will have to be at a significant premium to the current share price for us to even consider it. This time last year the shares were worth well over 400p. At the moment they are looking cheap."

Carl Gough, a managing director at Cazenove, said: "Given the high turnover in the share register as the shares havefallen from favour with many institutional investors, we suspect that many holders would welcome a cash exit as a means of capturing the potential in Minerva's development focused business." He added that investors feared an exit could take several years to bear fruit otherwise.