Speculation over Wassall as it sells General Cable stake

Wassall, the manufacturing conglomerate, yesterday triggered speculation about a possible pounds 500m acquisition spree after it sold its remaining 19.5 per cent stake in General Cable Corporation of the US for almost pounds 100m. It has now raised almost pounds 500m from demerging the business.

Speculation immediately turned to Wassall's publicly disclosed holdings of 5 per cent in Thorn lighting group, Europe's second-largest lighting group, which is capitalised at pounds 175m, and its 2.9 per cent stake in McBride, a quoted company making own-label and minor brands of soap powders, toiletries and personal care products. McBride is capitalised at pounds 260m.

Wassall would look for one or possibly two acquisitions costing pounds 400- 500m which fit its acquisition criteria, preferably in the UK or US but possibly in Europe, said David Roper, deputy chief executive.

It was looking for quoted companies which were currently underperforming or trade sales of subsidiaries of larger companies which no longer fit their owners' criteria, he said.

Wassall's interests include the manufacture of suitcases, bottle tops and sealants and the preferred sectors would be light engineering or manufacturing rather than specialised or high technology businesses.

The planned disposal of the remaining holding in General Cable was well flagged, but the price was ahead of expectations and was completed earlier than scheduled. Wassall's majority stake was floated in New York in May at $21 a share. The remaining 5 million shares were placed yesterday at $31 each, just 25 cents below the closing price on the New York market on Tuesday night.

Wassall had announced its intention last year to float the entire company in the US, but the minority stake was retained in order to avoid depressing the price of the float.

At the time of the float Wassall had undertaken to hold its remaining stake for at least six months, and had expected to take as long as 12 months to realise it. But in the light of the recent strong demand for General Cable shares, Wassall's New York advisers agreed to release the company from its undertaking and place the shares ahead of schedule.

The successful disposal immediately raised speculation about Wassall's plans for its newly acquired war chest. Mr Roper said yesterday Wassall had more than pounds 300m on deposit in the bank earning around 6 per cent and the money would be reinvested as soon as possible to maintain the return on capital.

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