M&S seeks to unmask mystery stakebuilder

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The Independent Online

Marks & Spencer is desperately trying to find out whether a potential predator is behind a recent share-buying spree. The retailer is issuing section 212 notices under the Companies Act - letters that oblige mystery shareholders to reveal their identities.

Marks & Spencer is desperately trying to find out whether a potential predator is behind a recent share-buying spree. The retailer is issuing section 212 notices under the Companies Act - letters that oblige mystery shareholders to reveal their identities.

Shares in the group shot 5p higher yesterday on exceptionally heavy volumes as speculation raged that Icelandic investors were building a stake. One report suggested an Icelandic investor group was seeking to spend up to £200m to amass a 3 per cent shareholding.

Almost 24 million shares changed hands yesterday - more than twice the average daily amount - capping a week of high turnover in the retailer's shares. M&S shares closed at 351.75p, well below the mooted 400p-a-share value attached to Philip Green's bid attempt last summer.

The puzzle over the identity of the unknown investors deepened after the usual Icelandic suspects distanced themselves from any involvement.

Baugur, the acquisitive retailer that owns Big Food Group and Hamleys and is bidding for Somerfield, is not thought to be involved. Nor is Landsbanki, one of the country's top banks that Baugur works closely with. Sources close to Burdaras, an investment company controlled by Thor Bjorgolfsson, one of Iceland's richest men, also denied all knowledge. Which left only Kaupthing, the country's biggest bank, as a possible contender, although sources close to the company again denied its involvement.

One Icelandic insider said: "It's difficult for a listed company to be purchasing because we'd have to report it." Icelandic companies, which are dwarfed by their UK counterparts, must report anything to their stock exchange that would influence their share price. The stock market capitalisation of M&S is greater even than Iceland's entire annual gross domestic product.

M&S has already been the subject of a phantom bid this year.

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