City sources said Nomura was considering whether to mount a takeover bid for Energy Group, at a price likely to exceed pounds 4bn. If successful, it would be by far the biggest acquisition so far by Nomura, which has netted huge windfalls from buying everything from train leasing companies to pubs in complex financing operations.
A Nomura spokesman declined to comment on the group's intentions last night. However a bid would mark the most audacious move yet by Guy Hands, managing director of its Principal Finance Group, who has pioneered buyouts which back huge loans with bond issues.
In December Nomura netted a pounds 334m profit from the sale of Angel Train Contracts, the privatised rail leasing company which it sold to Royal Bank of Scotland. Over the past year Nomura has completed a string of purchases, paying pounds 700m for betting shop chain William Hill and pounds 1.6bn for some 57,000 houses from the Ministry of Defence.
A three-way bidding war for Energy Group was looking increasingly likely yesterday as Texas Utilities, the Dallas based power supplier, confirmed it was in preliminary talks with the UK company, which also owns Peabody Coal, the largest US coal mining business. Texas Utilities is the largest power supplier in the state and owns a large nuclear power station.
Texas Utilities would join PacifiCorp, another US utility which saw its pounds 3.65bn bid for Energy Group lapse last August after the Government unexpectedly referred the deal to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. The MMC approved PacifiCorp's move in December, but the US company has been waiting for domestic regulators to clear a bid before making a new offer, with a decision expected within a month.
PacifiCorp yesterday revealed that it had spent about $60m (pounds 38m) so far on its bid for Energy Group. PacifiCorp also reported a surge in after- tax profits between October and December to $373.9m, compared with $132.9m the same period the previous year.
Energy Group shares rose a further 4p to 731p yesterday, following a 6 per cent surge on Monday, on speculation that PacifiCorp would need to raise its bid to pounds 4bn. However, Energy Group has made clear that the Oregon-based group has a significant head start over potential rivals if a bidding war develops.