TBI flies high as it confirms bid approach

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The Independent Online

TBI, the regional airport operator behind Luton, Cardiff and Belfast International, said yesterday that it had received a takeover approach.

TBI, the regional airport operator behind Luton, Cardiff and Belfast International, said yesterday that it had received a takeover approach.

News that the company was again in talks with a potential bidder sent shares to a three-year high. They closed 13 per cent up at 86p, valuing the group at about £500m.

TBI said discussions were only at a "preliminary stage, and there could be no assurances that agreement could be reached".

Analysts were left to speculate on the potential bidder, with Macquarie Airports, an Australian company, named as a possible candidate. Vinci, the French construction company which mounted a failed takeover bid in 2001, was also named, but ruled itself out last night. It pulled out of takeover talks in 2001 at the last minute after the World Trade Centre attacks, which shook global travel markets. It sold its remaining 10 per cent stake in TBI earlier this year.

Hochtief, the German construction company, which has also shown previous interest in Luton, also ruled itself out. It walked away from talks in January this year. TBI's management has also been rumoured to be interested in a buyout, but it is understood that it is not the party involved.

The bidder is thought to have taken interest in TBI after it announced earlier this year that it would take complete ownership of Luton airport, paying £78m to buy out the minority stake held by Alterra. Luton has seen a boom in passenger numbers and profitability after the birth of low-cost airlines. It is used as the major UK hub for easyJet and Ryanair, and TBI has discussed plans with Luton's local authority to extend the airport to accommodate 30 million passengers a year. "I couldn't see the company going for less than 90p a share," one analyst said yesterday.

The company announced this week that operating profits increased 8 per cent and passenger numbers across its airports were up 12 per cent. TBI also owns airports in Orlando, Florida, Stockholm and Bolivia.

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