Taylor & Francis launches hostile bid for Blackwell

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The Independent Online

The academic publisher Taylor & Francis has launched a hostile bid for Blackwell Publishers, the Oxford-based publisher of professional journals which values the family controlled group at £300m.

However, Blackwell's said it had "received a number of enquires interested in entering into discussions." It added that its advisers, Morgan Stanley, were undertaking a review of the companies strategic options and no decision would be made until that process was completed. Analysts said rival bid interest could come from Reed-Elsevier, McGraw-Hill or Bertelsmann, the German media group.

Taylor & Francis's decision to bypass the Blackwell board and take its cash and shares offer direct to shareholders threatens to worsen a damaging split in the Blackwell family. Some members are in favour of a sale of the 76-year-old business which publishes medical and scientific publications. Others would prefer to guide the company towards a stock market float.

Taylor & Francis, which also publishes scientific and technical publications, has gone hostile after receiving no response from the Blackwell board to a 1 March letter suggesting an agreed deal. The board had previously said that a change of ownership would be "detrimental to shareholders".

The issue will come to a head at an extraordinary general meeting which has been called by Toby Blackwell, 73, who controls 30 per cent of the voting shares and is in favour of a sale. He is calling for the board to enter into discussions with Taylor & Francis and to appoint new directors to ensure that the views of all shareholders are represented.

Anthony Selvey, Taylor & Francis' chief executive, said: "This is not designed to be hostile. All we want is an opportunity to talk to the board to discuss the benefits of us coming together." Mr Selvey said there would be significant advantage in combining the businesses in terms of cost-savings and growth opportunities. "As far as I'm concerned it is for the good of the business. We have complementary customers and supply bases."

Together with supports and family trusts, Toby Blackwell speaks for just over 50 per cent of the voting shares. But he is opposed by Nigel Blackwell, Toby's nephew and the company's chairman who has 42 per cent.

The company's statute states that 75 per cent of the votes are required for it to change hands. However, Toby Blackwell's camp believes a majority of more than 50 per cent will be enough to vote out the board. The new board could then push for a sale of the company's assets leaving Blackwell Publishing as a shell.

Taylor & Francis shares closed unchanged at 535p.