Woodchester in the frame for takeover

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The Independent Online
Credit Lyonnais, the troubled French bank that has been kept afloat by government subsidies, yesterday hoisted the "for sale" sign over its 54 per cent stake in Woodchester, the Irish investment company.

Analysts predicted the shares could fetch up to 300p each, which compares with yesterday's closing price of 277.5p, up 5p, and which would realise slightly more than Irpounds 350m for Credit Lyonnais.

"Given the level of Credit Lyonnais' shareholding, any such disposal will lead to a full bid for Woodchester," a spokesman for the bank said. Woodchester and Credit Lyonnais have appointed joint advisers Chase Investment Bank and Goldman Sachs International to seek buyers for the shares.

A full bid for the company would yield a fortune of almost Irpounds 59m for Craig McKinney, the chairman who owns almost 9 per cent of Woodchester.

The speculation in the City is that Woodchester could attract takeover bids from Lombard & Ulster, the leasing subsidiary of National Westminster Bank, the GE Capital leasing company in the US, and Chartered Trust, which is owned by Standard Chartered.

However, a company insider said: "We expect to be inundated with interest. We have a huge motor leasing operation, insurance broker and a bank. We're operational in Ireland, Northern Ireland, the UK, Portugal and Denmark."

Mr McKinney said yesterday that all the company's activities achieved considerable growth in 1996. "This has continued into 1997, with new business for the first two months up by over 30 per cent on the corresponding period last year," he said.

Mr McKinney said the establishment of a centralised back office in Dublin would improve efficiency.

The results for 1996, announced yesterday, showed that group pre-tax profits climbed from Irpounds 36.4m to Irpounds 44.3m. Earnings per share grew from 13p to 15.46p, and the total dividend was raised from 6.83p to 7.83p.