SCI may ask for more time to buy: Board of Great Southern discussing approach from unnamed white knight

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SCI, the Texan funeral company, may ask the Takeover Panel to extend the deadline for buying shares in Great Southern, its British bid target, writes Tom Stevenson.

SCI's efforts to build up a substantial minority stake in Great Southern were stymied on Wednesday. An announcement that a white knight might trump the bid sent the shares soaring 28p higher than SCI's 680p final offer and out of the US company's reach.

Bidding companies cannot buy shares in the market at a higher price than they have offered other shareholders, in effect preventing any further purchases.

According to Takeover Panel rules, share purchases by a bidding company with less than 30 per cent of the target have to stop on day 46 of the 60-day bid timetable, which falls on Saturday.

If the white knight walks away early next week without tabling a bid, SCI will tell the panel that it has lost more than two dealing days, during which unfounded expectations of a higher offer prevented it from buying shares.

Before the announcement of a possible white knight approach institutions had already sold about 20 per cent of the company to SCI, indicating their enthusiasm for the level of the offer.

Great Southern's board and advisers were locked in meetings yesterday, discussing the approach from a still unnamed overseas company.

Two North American funeral companies are seen as possible bidders: Vancouver-based Loewen group and Stewart Enterprises of New Orleans. Like SCI, both have been acquisitive, spending more than dollars 100m each last year on purchasing businesses.