LSE open to offers as it rebuffs 'incoherent' Macquarie takeover

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The Independent Online

As the LSE began its defence in earnest, the chief executive made it clear she regards Macquarie's 580p-a-share offer as defective. But she said: "The sector is entering a phase of important corporate development. Clearly there is tremendous potential for consolidation."

As part of its defence from a possible counter-bid by a leading European bourse or the New York Stock Exchange, the LSE is to return £510m to shareholders through dividends and share buy-backs, double what it offered in November, taking on debt of £350m in the process. This would seem to dent one of the objections to Macquarie's offer - that it is funded with 80 per cent debt.

Advising shareholders to reject the bid, the LSE argued that the Australians do not understand the company, which they have characterised as a "utility".

Some investors were unimpressed with the offer. One described it as "really weird, why would Goldman Sachs (Macquarie's advisers) advise them to behave like this?".

A speculative theory is that Goldman is testing the waters with this deal before advising the NYSE on a knockout bid.

Macquarie has until Friday to raise its £1.5bnoffer. If it gets no encouragement from shareholders to persist, it could withdraw next week. A spokesman for the Australian bank said: "There is nothing in the LSE document to cause us to change our view that the LSE is a fundamentally low-growth business which ... remains strategically isolated."

The Australians suggest that because LSE lacks a futures dealing arm it is constrained by market conditions and cannot grow at any pace.

The London Exchange has been under siege since failing to buy Liffe, the futures market, in 2001. Asked what she would do if the Macquarie bid failed, Ms Furse said: "Go to China to get some business."