Uniq shares slide as pensions crisis delays bid talks

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The Independent Online

Uniq shares tumbled 20.5p to 186p yesterday after the chilled foods group revealed that the £100m shortfall in its pension fund is stopping takeover talks getting off the ground.

Uniq shares tumbled 20.5p to 186p yesterday after the chilled foods group revealed that the £100m shortfall in its pension fund is stopping takeover talks getting off the ground.

The company, which makes the Count On Us low-fat range for Marks & Spencer, has caught the eye of several potential suitors.

In October, Duke Street Capital saidit was mulling a bid forUniq. The buyout specialist holds 6.6 per cent of the shares. The rival private equity firm CapVest Equity Partners is also thought to be interested.

The failure to agree with Uniq's pension trustees on how best to shore up the fund's shortfall has stalled negotiations and prevented any discussion over a potential sale price.

Uniq has denied deliberately recalculating its pension scheme in an attempt to thwart bidders. A three-yearly review revealed the deficit had widened by £8.6m to £102.3m. Then, Bill Ronald, the chief executive, said the revision reflected an increase in average life expectancy.

Pension trustees are exercising increasing influence over the bidding process. In June, Permira walked away from talks to buy WH Smith after rejecting demands to plug the shortfall in the bookseller's pension fund.

Nicola Mallard, at Investec, said any offer for Uniq is unlikely to be much higher than the current share price. She is recommending clients reduce holdings of the shares.

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