ABP said it had agreed to open its books to the consortium after it lifted its bid from 730p a share to 810p. Shares in ABP rose 15 per cent to 770p - still some 40p below the revised bid price.
Analysts attributed this to the high degree of market volatility at present and the fact that Goldman's and its fellow investors, Borealis, the investment arm of the Ontario state pension fund, and GIC, the private equity arm of Singapore's state-owned investment company Temasek, could still walk away from the deal. Their bid is non-binding and depends on the completion of satisfactory due diligence.
If the deal goes through, then the UK's only remaining quoted ports operator will be Forth Ports. In the past 12 months P&O has been bought by Dubai Ports World, PD Ports has been swallowed up by Babcock & Brown, and Mersey Docks & Harbour has fallen to Peel Holdings, which is controlled by the property magnate John Whittaker.
The Goldman's consortium first approached ABP in late March with an offer of 730p. This was swiftly rejected as "wholly inadequate". A few weeks later, it came back with an offer worth about 780p, which was again rejected.
The latest offer of 810p represents a 40 per cent premium to ABP's average share price in the six months prior to the initial takeover approach. Insiders said it also had to be set against the 10 per cent fall in the stock market since March.
ABP is Britain's biggest ports operator, handling about a quarter of the country's seaborne trade through its 21 UK ports.
It owns ports on the Humber and others in South Wales, in addition to Southampton and a one-third share in the Tilbury container terminal in London.
The group also owns a US ports business, Amports, which operates a number of car import terminals, although this is due to be sold off shortly. Dubai Ports World was forced to sell off P&O's five US ports after a political uproar over such sensitive assets being owned by a Middle Eastern company.
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