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Rhodia takes over Albright & Wilson

THE FRENCH chemicals group Rhodia yesterday won control of Albright & Wilson after Albemarle, the rival American bidder, confirmed it would not raise its 160p a share offer.

Analysts welcomed the outcome, pointing to greater synergies between Rhodia and Albright & Wilson, which is the world's biggest supplier of phosphates for detergents. But they also drew attention to expected job cuts among the 700-strong workforce at the UK group's loss-making Whitehaven plant.

Albemarle, the US chemicals giant which acquired an 18.6 per cent stake in Albright & Wilson in March, also announced it would sell 7.96 per cent of its holding to ISPG, the bid vehicle financed by Rhodia and and privately- owned Austrian firm Donau Chemie. Rhodia has an option to buy ISPG from January 1, 2000. With the shares initially purchased at 130p, Albemarle stands to make a pounds 22m profit on the sale.

ISPG now has nearly 55 per cent of A&W following its revised 167.5p per share cash offer made on 30 April, which valued A&W at pounds 526m.

Peter Cartwright, chemicals analyst at Williams de Broe, said: "There'll be more collateral damage in the UK under Rhodia than there would have been with Albemarle. There'll be greater job losses, although Rhodia have not indicated the extent of the cost savings."

Sources close to Rhodia said job losses will follow, although the French company will not be able to take control of Albright & Wilson until its parent company, Paris-based Rhone-Poulenc, completes its merger with Germany's Hoechst. This moved a step closer yesterday after Hoechst's largest shareholder, Kuwait Petroleum, confirmed its backing for the deal.

"The board of KPC has reviewed the proposed merger between Hoechst and Rhone-Poulenc and has given its support in principle," KPC said.