Willis rises on counter-bid talk

AON, THE US broking giant, was yesterday the subject of strong speculation it would make a bid for its smaller British insurance rival, Willis Corroon, disrupting an agreed bid by KKR, the Wall Street acquisition specialist, writes Andrew Verity.

Shares in Willis Corroon rose 1p to 200.5p on a falling market, closing just above an offer of 200p made by KKR and a consortium of five insurance companies at end-July.

In a move widely interpreted as an attempt to fend off a counter-bid, Trinity Holdings, the acquisition vehicle for the KKR, gave notice last week it would drop the number of acceptances required from 90 per cent to 50 per cent. The notice period required is four working days, effectively giving Aon until the end of today to put in a counter-bid. KKR has so far received 64 per cent acceptances.

Rumours of a counter-bid have been fuelled by the acquisition of Sedgwick, Willis Corroon's rival, by Marsh McLennan, its arch-competitor in the US, for pounds 1.25bn.

At 200p, KKR is offering a premium of just 12 per cent to Willis Corroon's shareholders, while Marsh Mac's premium for Sedgwick is 25 per cent.