Ward family sells stake

Suitors began to court Ward Holdings, the housebuilder, last night when the company's family shareholders announced they were to sell their controlling stake in the company.

"More than two" parties in the housebuilding sector expressed an interest in the company yesterday, according to Kleinwort Benson, which has been appointed to identify potential buyers.

The reasons for the sale of the family's 51 per cent share of the company are not being disclosed but it is thought that Denis Ward, the chairman, wants to realise his investment as he nears retirement. Mr Ward is 73 and holds 8.1 million shares, or 15.4 per cent of the total.

Some observers have suggested the consistently poor performance of the share price may also have motivated Mr Ward and the other family shareholders to sell. Graeme Wall, Mr Ward's son-in-law, is the only other shareholder to sit on the board. He owns 9.6 million shares, or 18.3 per cent of the company. According to takeover rules, a single buyer of the family's shares would be obliged to bid for the entire issued share capital.

Indicative bids are due in by 10 July, a week after the company's interim results, and after a breathing space to take in the impact of the 2 July Budget.

A source close to Ward Holdings believed it may receive approaches from buyers outside the housebuilding sector.

Analysts said the company was beginning to look more attractive. Ward yesterday disclosed that trading for the six months to the end of April had improved on the previous year, with a 24 per cent increase in new house sales.

Shares in Ward Holdings, which have fallen as low as 36.5p this year, jumped 13p to 62.5p.

A protracted dispute over a fire at a Tesco supermarket in 1993 has inhibited share price performance over the years and forced the company to set aside pounds 5m to cover uninsured losses.