Thomas Cook raid on Owners shares

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The Independent Online
THOMAS Cook, the travel agency, has put down a pounds 20m cash deposit on 13 million shares in Owners Abroad to try to block Airtours' pounds 290m takeover of the package holiday company.

Airtours' bid for Owners, which has been raging for more than two months, closes today, and is primed to be a very close finish.

Cook, which wants to strike a trading alliance with Owners, yesterday bought the 8.4 per cent stake in the bid target at 152.5p a share.

A successful bid would make Airtours the second largest holiday company in the UK with about 29 per cent of the market, ranking behind Thomson, which has about 34 per cent.

Phillips & Drew, broker to Owners, handled the two-hour raid for Cook. Airtours also bought shares in the market, netting a 0.7 per cent stake to take its Owners holding to 7.8 per cent.

Some 1.7 million of Cook's shares were bought from Guardian Royal Exchange, the insurance group. Cook, owned by WestLB, the German bank, refused to name the other sellers.

Large investors, which include Gartmore with 7.29 per cent, also remained silent. PDFM, the fund management arm of Phillips & Drew, holds 10.8 per cent.

Yesterday's manoeuvre drew an acrimonious response from Airtours, which has won the support of Mercury Asset Management, Owners' largest shareholder with 15 per cent.

David Crossland, chairman of Airtours, said: 'This action follows a predictable wrecking pattern. Owners shareholders should take careful note that their directors appear determined to maintain independence at any cost.'

Besides yesterday's share buying, Cook has previously promised to make a tender offer for 12.5 per cent of Owners at 150p per share.

Owners shares fell 9p to 138p yesterday. This compares with the 149p value placed on Owners stock by the 15-for-34 share swap terms offered by Airtours, which eased 1p to 338p.