Halliburton makes late objection to Expro deal

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The Independent Online

Halliburton, the American oil services giant, set itself on a collision course with the UK Takeover Panel after it staged a last-minute objection to the takeover of UK rival Expro.

In an unusual turn of events, Halliburton intervened in a First Court hearing in London yesterday that was being held to approve the legal structure of the sale of Expro to Candover, the buyout group. Just hours earlier, Halliburton had published a stock market statement confirming that it had decided officially to abandon its takeover of Expro. It had offered 1,625p per share for Expro, 10p more than Candover's bid. It withdrew the offer after, it said, it became "apparent that Expro would not provide the required co-operation." The target's board said it rejected it because there was greater competition risk and it would take longer to complete. Candover's bid, recommended by the Expro board, is funded and ready to proceed immediately.

Halliburton's statement to the stock market ostensibly cleared the way for Candover to move ahead. Crucially, issuing such a statement also barred Halliburton, under UK take-over rules, from bidding again for Expro for at least six months.

Halliburton's intervention yesterday in court caused consternation. The judge first adjourned the hearing until the afternoon, when the Takeover Panel's director general Robert Hingley attended, represented by a solicitor. Halliburton asked to make representations about the so-called "scheme of arrangement" under which Candover proposed to buy Expro. It is unclear what Halliburton ultimately wants, and the Takeover Panel argued in court that it had already overstepped the rule by making initial declarations in court. A spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment.

The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow to allow Halliburton to liaise with the Takeover Panel. Expro shares dropped 2.7 per cent yesterday to 1,632p.