SNCF will buy shares in Go-Ahead in attempt to frustrate rival's bid

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The Independent Online

SNCF, the French state rail company, yesterday moved to frustrate the efforts of its domestic rival, C3D, to buy Go-Ahead, the British transport group.

SNCF, the French state rail company, yesterday moved to frustrate the efforts of its domestic rival, C3D, to buy Go-Ahead, the British transport group.

However, SNCF ruled out an outright counterbid for Go-Ahead, its joint-venture partner in the Thames Trains franchise, unless a further offer for the UK company emerges.

Instead, SNCF said, it would acquire a stake in Go-Ahead through buying shares in the market. Industry sources said the SNCF move was intended to bolster Go-Ahead's share price. A source said: "It is an artificial boost to the share price at a critical time in the bid."

Go-Ahead shareholders have until 25 October to accept the 650p-a-share cash offer, worth £326m, from C3D, a joint venture between state-controlled Caisse des Depots-Developpement and Rhone Capital.

SNCF's statement that it would buy Go-Ahead stock duly had the effect of boosting the British company's shares, which closed up 30p at 707.5p.

The bigger the gap between the Go-Ahead share price and the C3D's offer, the less attractive the bid looks, analysts said.

There were also technical reasons for yesterday's SNCF statement. Under UK takeover rules, yesterday was the last day SNCF could make its intentions towards Go-Ahead clear. SNCF said on 19 September it was considering a counterbid.

Last week, C3D said it would be willing to raise its offer to 800p a share, but only for a recommendation from the Go-Ahead board, which did not come.

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