A bid battle for control of the UK's biggest ports operator looks set to intensify this week with a new offer worth almost #2.7 billion.
Britannia Ports - a consortium led by Australian b ank Macquarie - is thought to be preparing to up the stakes by trumping the agreed offer made last week by Goldman Sachs for Associated British Ports, owner of the Hams Hall distribution complex
near Coleshill. Bo Lerenius, AB Ports chief executive, is due to meet both sides as he attempts to flush out the top price in an auction for the owner of 21 UK ports, including Hull, Southampton, Grimsby and Port Talbot.
Goldman, which lost out to Spanish firm Ferrovial in the race for airports operator BAA earlier this month, sparked takeover interest when it made an approach worth 730p a share, or #2.2 billion, for AB Ports in March.
That was rejected until the board of the UK company agreed the terms of an offer worth 810p, or #2.48 billion, with the US investment bank.
But shares in the company continued to rise after rival interest from the Macquarie consortium forced Goldman into increasing its offer to 840p, or #2.58 billion. Macquarie told AB Ports it would at least match the price, which one report yesterday said the bank will reinforce this week by tabling an offer of 865p a share, valuing AB Ports at just under #2.7 billion.
Earlier this month, BAA backed a #10.3 billion takeover proposal from Ferrovial after an auction process also drove up the offer price.
Port operators have become attractive targets due to their stable income streams, large property portfolios and buoyant shipping markets on the back of growth in Chinese trade flows.
P&O was taken private when Dubai's DP World won control with a #3.9 billion offer following a bidding war earlier this year.
In addition, Mersey Docks & Harbour agreed a #771 million takeover by Peel Ports in June and Teesport operator PD Ports was swallowed up by Australian infrastructure group Babcock & Brown for #260 million.
The Macquarie's consortium features support from British venture capital group 3i and the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board. Goldman's Admiral consortium is backed by a Canadian pension fund and GIC Special Invest-ments, which is backed by t he Singaporean government.