International Power's talks with GDF stall

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The Independent Online

Talks that could have seen France's GDF Suez and Britain's International Power combine many of their international assets or even embark on a full-scale merger have collapsed.

International Power (IP), whose shares have risen by almost a third over the past two months amid speculation that the French utility was close to bidding for the company, admitted yesterday that it had been holding talks with GDF but said these had now ended.

"The company confirms it has held preliminary discussions regarding a potential combination of International Power and certain power assets of GDF Suez," it said. "No agreement was reached and discussions are no longer ongoing."

Analysts said it was still possible that GDF might launch a bid for IP, having seen plans for a more limited deal knocked back. "Given GDF's current financial structure we estimate it could pay up to 650p for IP and still see the purchase as accretive to earnings per share," a Citigroup expert said. "A 400p takeover [the price on which bid speculation has centred] could lift GDF's EPS by around 6 per cent in 2011."

However, yesterday's announcement also suggests the two companies have, until now, been discussing a less ambitious deal. The collapse of the talks will disappoint many analysts, who argue that the two groups' international businesses are a good fit and that both need to secure new assets in order to grow. International Power, a FTSE 100-listed business that is one of Britain's biggest energy producers, also has assets in North America, the Middle East, Asia and Australia, all areas that GDF has targeted for growth. GDF, meanwhile, is Europe's fifth-largest energy producer and is worth 10 times its British counterpart.

A combination of assets would also have been less politically sensitive than a takeover bid. If GDF were to launch a full-scale bid for IP, it would be likely to face opposition from critics concerned about the sale of another British company with a key role in infrastructure passing into foreign ownership. GDF, which is 35 per cent owned by the French government, will have noted the controversy which surrounded the takeover last year of nuclear power producer British Energy by its rival Electricité de France (EDF).

IP's shares fell 3.4 per cent to 311p following yesterday's statement.

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