Panel sets new timetable for Wolves and Marston bids

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The Independent Online
THE CITY Takeover Panel yesterday stopped the clock on regional brewer Wolverhampton & Dudley's bid for rival Marston, Thompson & Evershed, on day 39, after the prey turned predator with a pounds 330m counter bid last Friday.

The landmark judgement setting aside the normal 60-day bid timetable is a clear boost to Marston who would otherwise have had just 21 days to convince its shareholders to back its plan and thwart Wolves' bid.

This is the first time that the Panel has had to rule in a case of a "Pacman defence", so-called after the 1980s computer game in which a figure being pursued across the screen could shake off its pursuer by suddenly turning around and gobbling it up.

The ploy has been used commonly in takeover bids in the United States but not before in Britain.

Nick Letchet, the Marston's chief executive, hailed the Panel's decision "as an equitable solution".

He added: "Our merger strategy offers cash in excess of half of the value of Wolverhampton & Dudley's shares and can unlock significantly greater synergies."

Marston has proposed closing Wolves breweries in Wolverhampton and Hartlepool, selling off 1,150 tenanted and poorly-performing managed pubs to focus on its Burton-on-Trent brewery and its Pitcher & Piano and Via Vita chains of branded pubs and cafes.

Marston is also offering to pay out a special dividend to its shareholders of 123p a share funded by the Wolves pubs sale, which is expected to raise pounds 250m.

Wolves triggered the bid battle in November when it tabled a hostile offer for its near neighbour aimed at creating a new brewing force with 2000 pubs, three breweries and 5 per cent of the beer market.

Wolves rejected suggestions that the Panel's decision played into Marston's hands.

A Wolves spokesman said: "We welcome the decision. It is in the best interests of shareholders.

"It would have been unsatisfactory if we had been in the absurd position of putting out our closing statement before they would have had to put out their offer. "