Green rules out fresh offer for Marks & Spencer

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The Independent Online

Philip Green insisted he has no interest in re-bidding for Marks & Spencer yesterday, but shares in the high street retailer still ended higher after a mysterious South African financial outfit claimed it was working on a 410p a share cash bid.

Philip Green insisted he has no interest in re-bidding for Marks & Spencer yesterday, but shares in the high street retailer still ended higher after a mysterious South African financial outfit claimed it was working on a 410p a share cash bid.

The Takeover Panel seized upon the revelation that Paulsmeier Inc, an unknown Cape Town-based venture capital set-up, was planning a £10.5bn hostile takeover bid for M&S. The watchdog launched an investigation into the claims, which prompted shares in the retailer to spike 20.75p higher before they closed up 6.5p at 374p, topping the FTSE 100 leaderboard.

City bankers and analysts poured cold water on the notion that Mark Paulsmeier, a self-styled South African financier, could credibly attempt to buy M&S, which last year rebuffed Mr Green's putative 400p-per-share bid approach. "Nobody in the City has heard of this guy," one investment banker said.

But Mr Paulsmeier issued a statement yesterday claiming that his private equity group, Oakwell Associates, had been asked last July by one of its associate members to mount a management-backed buyout of M&S. The release said: "The Group has virtually completed the negotiations with potential financier(s) and await their due-diligence requirements to proceed." The 410p-per-share bid would offer staff up to 45 per cent of the equity, it added.

Mr Paulsmeier's spokesman yesterday said Oakwell Associates would put up the £10.5bn necessary to mount a bid. He said Stuart Rose, M&S's chief executive, had been contacted "two or three times, twice in January" about the proposal, but an M&S spokesman denied it had heard from the South African, saying "We have received no proposal. It's an unwelcome distraction."

According to Mr Paulsmeier's website, he has served on "many boards of directors [sic] of international companies". Yet according to Bloomberg's data- base, he does not exist. His website has him down as the founder member of Global Association of Billionaires and Millionaires, "a global network consisting of 39 individuals and 364 corporations" of which there is no independent verification. His "International Venture Capital Association" also appears not to exist and the legitimate National Venture Capital Association has warned that if anyone tries to claim they belong to the IVCA, "they may be trying to defraud you".

Meanwhile, Mr Green's bid vehicle Revival Acquisitions issued a statement that rules him out from re-bidding for M&S for at least six months.

"Everybody keeps driving us mad with 'will we, won't we, would we, could we?'," Mr Green said. "In six months time, we'll see - hopefully by then it [the speculation] will have all gone away. The market place is quite tough. There is definitely a consumer slowdown across the sector," he said."Prices are high enough. If 45 million M&S shares can change hands in the last 30 minutes it tells you what a casino it is at the moment."

If Mr Paulsmeier's bid attempt is a hoax, he could face criminal charges and fines under the Financial Services Authority's market abuse powers.

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