Outlook: Pac-Man troubles

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Outlook: Pac-Man troubles

MORE CONFUSION in the two way takeover bid between Marston Thompson & Evershed and Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries. Just to recap, Wolves last November launched a pounds 262m bid for its rival Midlands brewer, Marstons.

Marstons responded by launching its own bid for Wolves, the first time the so called Pac-Man defence has been used in Britain. In the process it made a nonsense of Takeover Panel rules governing the timetable of a bid situation and the release of information.

The Takeover Panel yesterday issued the following clarification. "Following discussions with W&DB and Marston, the executive has ruled that day 39 of the bid timetable for W&DB's offer ("New Day 39") will be deemed to be the earlier of Wednesday 20 January and the date on which Marston posts its offer document. Accordingly, the last date for W&DB to post any revised offer document will be seven days after New Day 39".

All clear now? Good, because if not the Panel is mighty reluctant to explain the reasoning behind this masterful piece of arbitration. Commercially confidential, old boy, is the line. Since when was it any part of a regulator's job to clothe its decisions in secrecy? It hardly does the Panel's position as one of the last bastions of self regulation much credit.

As it happens Marstons seems set to do the logical thing and synchronise the close of its bid with the close of the Wolves bid anyway, offering shareholders a clear choice between the two strategies.

Unfortunately, this increases quite markedly the likelihood of an outcome that would completely floor most company lawyers, let alone the Takeover Panel - that both offers are successful.

The high degree of commonality between the shareholders of the two companies make this seem not a strong likelihood, but even so it