Shareholders put pressure on Blenheim to sell

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The Independent Online
Blenheim was silent yesterday on the progress of the revived bid talks for the exhibitions group, understood to be with the Anglo-Dutch publishing giant Reed Elsevier, as it announced more than doubled profits. But industry observers said they expected an early announcement, given what is thought to be heavy pressure to sell being applied by some of Blenheim's biggest shareholders.

The new bid approach, revealed on 16 September, came after the failure of discussions with both United News & Media, the newspapers to money- broking group, and Reed. It was thought that the talks broke down over price, with Reed said to be offering near 480p a share and Neville Buch, executive chairman of Blenheim, holding out for 500p or more. One analyst suggested yesterday's news that profits had soared from pounds 15.2m to pounds 30.7m in the first half would have little effect on the negotiations. "The whole thing is swinging on whether Neville Buch will accept an offer lower than he was previously offered," he claimed.

With a renewed bid from United thought to be low on the media group's list of priorities, analysts said most of the pressure to sell was coming from shareholders. "It is coming from one or two institutional shareholders, Compagnie Generale des Eaux [which owns a 15.5 per cent stake] and some elements within the company." There were suggestions that the American Ianuzzi family, which holds 12 per cent of the shares, and Patrick Lecetre, with a 5 per cent holding, were sellers, although not necessarily at the lower price being mooted. Both are represented on the board.

Their shareholdings result from the sale of family businesses in the US and France respectively, both areas which have suffered drastic cuts in senior management as Blenheim has wrestled to improve the performance of the group.