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Panel may force BICC bid disclosure

THE TAKEOVER Panel could force Wassall, the acquisitive mini-conglomerate, to reveal whether it is planning a takeover of BICC, the troubled cables and engineering group, within the next few weeks, writes Francesco Guerrera.

Insiders believe that the regulatory body could ask Wassall, which has a stake of over 9 per cent in BICC, to declare its intentions in an official stockmarket announcement.

The Panel declined to comment but Wassall fuelled rumours of a bid yesterday when it said it could issue a high-yield bond of up to pounds 100m to finance last year's acquisition of Thorn Lighting Group. The chief executive Christopher Miller said the deal would free up resources for acquisitions.

Speculation of a bid by Wassall, known as a shrewd buyer of underperforming small firms, has been mounting since last month when the company said its investment might lead to an offer for BICC.

The prospect of a takeover sparked a rise in BICC shares, which had been savaged by a slump in the cables market. In the three weeks since Wassall's statement the shares rose 34 per cent to 89.5p before falling back to yesterday's 80.5p as the speculation faded. The volatility is believed to have triggered fears of a "false market" in the stock, with investors encouraged to buy BICC shares in the hope of a bid.