View from City Road: An inscrutable move from Ritblat

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The Independent Online
Not content with getting Stuart Lipton's back up by snatching a 29 per cent stake in Stanhope, John Ritblat is now enjoying himself at the expense of Sir Nigel Mobbs at Slough.

But while the attractions of the Broadgate Centre provided the logic for buying into Stanhope, his motives for buying 7 per cent of Bredero Properties, a struggling developer currently under offer by Slough, its largest shareholder, are harder to fathom.

With next to no assets, and negative net worth of 9p a share at the last count, Slough's offer of 10p a share for the 51 per cent it did not own appeared more than generous, a tidying exercise that drew a line under a pounds 40m clanger.

Slough is furious with Mr Ritblat for his intervention. The terse announcement yesterday that Slough will delist Bredero's shares as soon as it declares the bid unconditional on 6 July underlines its pique at being unable to mop up the minority. Takeover rules require a bidder to acquire 90 per cent of the shares it does not already own to compulsorily purchase the rest. That will now be impossible.

So what is Mr Ritblat up to? On the face of it what British Land has done is pay 11p a share, or pounds 270,000 in total, for an untradeable stake in a next-to- worthless company. Why? It's always possible that it's a spiteful joke in the Harry Hyams mould. When Oldham Estates, the developer of Centre Point, was bought out, he kept enough shares to force MEPC into the expense and aggravation of maintaining a separate company and preparing an annual report. But if it is a joke, it's an expensive one. More plausibly, this is a prelude to a bid for Slough itself, although Mr Ritblat denies it. Certainly if that is his goal, messing around with Bredero is an eccentric way of achieving it. As always John Ritblat is charm itself but equally inscrutable in disclosing his motives. If he is up to something, he's not letting the rest of us into the secret.

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