Northern bid advisers urged to stand down

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The Independent Online
The Takeover Panel is pressing both Swiss Bank Corporation and SG Warburg to stand down from their respective roles as advisers to Trafalgar House and Northern Electric in the event of a renewed bid for the electricity firm.

Until now there has been intense speculation in the City that Swiss Bank, as the new owner of Warburg following its recent pounds 860m takeover bid, would be asked to retire as adviser to Trafalgar, which has diverse interests from engineering to owning the QE2, the luxury flagship of the Cunard shipping line.

It is understood by City sources that the panel is loath to force either Swiss Bank or Warburg to act unilaterally but rather sees its role as an independent broker.

One City source said that there was a view that the "fair" solution was for both teams of advisers to go. The issue is becoming more urgent as a renewed bid for Northern is expected after a forthcoming announcement by the electricity regulator, Offer, on price controls for the 12 regional companies. Professor Stephen Littlechild, director-general of Offer, is expected to reveal his distribution price proposals within the next few weeks.

Trafalgar House lapsed an pounds 11-a-share bid in March when Offer's price review was announced. The review sent shock waves through the industry, and led to sharp falls in the share prices of electricity companies.

Although Northern then blocked an attempt by the predatory Trafalgar to come back with a 950p takeover offer, the board of the electricity company has said that a fresh bid could proceed once regulatory uncertainty had been removed.

The management of Northern has, however, made it clear that allowing a bid to go forward does not mean it will have the support of the company. Northern's shares currently trade at 794p.

Northern was recently forced to hold an extraordinary general meeting to vote on whether a renewed bid by Trafalgar should be allowed. The company won the support of most of its shareholders, but the shareholder rebellion that led to the meeting was seen in the City as severe embarrassment.

The directors of Northern, which is thought to have chosen two possible alternative advisers to replace Warburg in the event of a renewed bid from Trafalgar, declined to comment on the moves by the panel.

Meanwhile, the company is expected this week to announce pre-tax profits of about pounds 150m for the year to March.