South African 'bid' for M&S evaporates

The supposed "bid" for Marks & Spencer vanished into thin air yesterday after Mark Paulsmeier, a little known South African financier, dropped his proposed 410p-per-share takeover offer.

In response to pressure from the Takeover Panel, the Cape Town-based Paulsmeier Inc issued a statement to the London Stock Exchange "disassociating itself" from any potential bid for M&S. Although the approach was widely regarded by City bankers and analysts to be a hoax, shares in M&S fell 2 per cent to 360.5p.

Two days after claiming to have "virtually" lined up financing for the prospective £10.5bn bid, Paulsmeier Inc said: "The group is not leading, nor contemplating making, any takeover bid for Marks & Spencer and would not wish to be part of any such bid."

Mr Paulsmeier's website claims he is "internationally recognised for his corporate success" yet even the South African financial watchdog had no knowledge of his activities. Paulsmeier Inc described itself as "a private venture capital development and investment group" with 50,000 "professional investors". Yet yesterday it was forced to admit that it was "not a financier of takeover bids or other transactions".

It reiterated that the group had "been involved in the facilitation of a possible management buyout of Marks & Spencer", adding, "in light of developments, has decided to dissociate itself from any transaction involving a bid for the company and will not have any further involvement with this project".

Investors scrambled to buy shares inM&S on Tuesday afternoon, pushing the stock 20p higher, after the suggestion that Mr Paulsmeier may bid. Forty-five million shares changed hands in 20 minutes - a normal day's trade would see just 11 million change hands.

The Financial Services Authority, which investigates all unusual share-price movements as a matter of course, said yesterday it was "satisfied" Paulsmeier Inc had clarified its intentions but warned: "We will continue to monitor the situation."

Mr Paulsmeier later claimed to be the victim of a prank, telling the Bloomberg newswire that "someone was disseminating false information". Yet the press release that was issued in his name on Tuesday was emailed from his PR representative, who has written a glowing tribute to Mr Paulsmeier's skills on the Paulsmeier Inc website.

With takeover interest in M&S drying up this week - Philip Green has promised not to re-bid for at least six months - the onus for rescuing the retailer falls on Stuart Rose, the group's chief executive. M&S issued a profits warning last month.

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