Britain's last independent listed ports operator may finally be about to sell out as Forth Ports opens its books to a £744m offer from Arcus Capital.
The £16.30-a-share approach is the fourth from Arcus Capital, which already owns more than 22 per cent of the company.
But while the previous offers have been rejected out of hand, Forth Ports made a formal Stock Exchange announcement yesterday that "on the basis of this indicative proposal,the board has agreed that Arcus can undertake certain confirmatory due diligence".
Forth Ports – which owns seven UK ports including Tilbury and Grangemouth – was the only one of the UK's listed ports groups to hold out when a wave of takeovers swept the sector five years ago. Rivals P&O, PD Ports, Mersey Docks & Harbour and Associated British Ports were all bought within a 12-month period. But Forth avoided the rush, largely because of issues over the value of property assets on the Edinburgh waterfront at Leith.
Interest in the company resurfaced last year. The Northstream consortium – led by Arcus Capital but also including Peel Ports and the Deutsche Bank infrastructure fund Rreef – approached the group in January offering £12.85 a share. Despite two increases, to £13.40 and then £14, Forth Ports held firm that even the highest bid fell "far short" of the value of the group.
Forth Ports shares closed up 82p, or 5 per cent, at £16.05 last night.