Power bid truce shaky

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The Independent Online
THE ceasefire between Trafalgar House, the cruises-to-construction conglomerate controlled from Hong Kong, and Northern Electric could be as short-lived as a Bosnian truce.

Although both sides made conciliatory gestures as Trafalgar's latest offer was blocked by stock market regulators at the weekend, they also warned the fight could be in full swing again as early as Friday.

Trafalgar bosses are holding their breath waiting for Professor Stephen Littlechild, the director general of electricity supply, to make a statement on 24 March about the distribution price cap review. It is not yet clear whether the regulator intends to use the statement to settle the uncertainty in the sector that followed his announcement two weeks ago that the cap - agreed last summer and set for implementation next month - was being reconsidered.

The reluctance of Trafalgar to pursue the fight and Northern's willingness, expressed earlier in the week, to consider a renewed bid long before the end of the 12-month cooling-off period is in marked contrast to the bitter slanging that marked the original two-month battle.

Trafalgar has decided, at least for the time being, not to mount a legal challenge to the Stock Exchange Take Over Panel, which was responsible for scuppering its latest bid. The panel ruled on Friday that it would not grant an exemption under Rule 35.1 to allow Trafalgar to put its £9.50 offer to Northern's shareholders without the permission of the electricity company's board.

Trafalgar has also decided not to incite a shareholder revolt at Northern. By buying shares on the open market and rallying supporters of its bid, it could have demanded an extraordinary general meeting in an effort to force the board to acquiesce.

The gestures followed Northern's announcement that its board would allow shareholders to consider a renewed bid from Trafalgar once the regulatory uncertainty was resolved.