Owners shareholders hedge their bets

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THERE are signs of shareholders in Owners Abroad hedging their bets on the possibility of a counter-offer to the pounds 267m takover bid on the table from Airtours, writes John Shepherd.

Mercury Asset Management yesterday bought 1 million shares in Owners, the second-largest package holiday company in the UK. It bought 100,000 at 133p each, and 900,000 at 134p, which increased its stake to 21.9 million, equal to 14.07 per cent.

A spokesman for Mercury said it would be inappropriate to 'commit ourselves at the moment'. He conceded that one of the hypothetical options was that Thomas Cook, the travel agency, could mount a counter-bid, having seen its proposed trading link with Owners virtually scuppered by Airtours.

Analysts also said that Mercury's share-buying could be interpreted as a 'cheap and fluid way' into Airtours, which is offering 15 of its shares for every 34 held in Owners.

Airtours' bid terms value each Owners share at 136p, against a mid-market price of 134p. Airtours stand at 308p.

Scottish Amicable, meanwhile, has cashed in some of its Owners shareholding, selling 250,000 shares at 132p each. The sale cut its holding to slightly less than 6 million shares, equal to 3.7 per cent.