William Cook backs down on chief's claims

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The bid battle for William Cook took an unusual turn yesterday when the company was forced to clarify reports that a large proportion of its shareholders had rejected a hostile pounds 58m offer from Triplex Lloyd, a rival engineer.

After an early morning meeting with the Takeover Panel, the Sheffield- based castings group issued a statement saying it was "unable to confirm" weekend press reports containing statements attributed to its chairman, Andrew Cook.

"At present, William Cook is not able to confirm any of these statements and they should therefore be disregarded," the statement continued.

In a series of interviews over the weekend, Mr Cook referred to his company's sales and profits in the current half-year in March 1997 compared to previous periods. He also highlighted improvements in efficiency and indicated big shareholders were not prepared to accept the bid from Triplex Lloyd.

Last night Mr Cook's gaffe was being put down to inexperience. "It's the first time he has received an offer for his company and naturally he is very keen to get his message over," said a source familiar with the bid. "But there are established procedures for getting that information to the market."

William Cook said it would publish a profits forecast for the current year "during the offer period", but declined to say if this information would be contained in the company's defence document due within the next 10 days.

In the meantime, it urged shareholders to take no action, adding that all "all options aimed at demonstrating William Cook's value to its shareholders" were being reviewed.

Cook's shares are tightly held. Seven fund managers hold more than 60 per cent of the equity. The largest shareholder is Philips & Drew with a 21 per cent stake.

Triplex Lloyd is offering 295.4p a share in cash or seven new Triplex shares and pounds 13.50 for every nine Cook shares, worth 312.9p.

Last night shares in Cook closed 1p higher at 330p while Triplex was unchanged at 209.5p.