Aga’s takeover saga heats up

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Upmarket cooker firm Aga Rangemaster is at the centre of a takeover tussle after revealing US electronic appliances giant Whirlpool was considering a bid to rival Middleby’s £129 million offer.

The maker of the distinctive cast-iron ovens said it was in talks with Whirlpool over a possible offer after receiving an approach and has opened its books to the suitor.

Shares in Aga surged by as much as 12% on hopes of a higher bid.

Whirlpool’s move to gatecrash the Middleby takeover comes just a week before Aga shareholders are due to vote on the deal, with Aga set to officially seal the takeover on September 16.

But Aga said it was still backing the 185p-a-share offer made by American kitchen equipment firm Middleby in July in the absence of any firm bid from Whirlpool.

Whirlpool - which makes around 20 billion US dollars (£13 billion) in sales a year, employs 100,000 staff and has 70 manufacturing and research centres worldwide - confirmed its takeover interest in Aga, although it stressed “there can be no certainty that a formal offer will be made or as to the terms of any offer”.

Aga said: “Given the conditionality of the Whirlpool offer, the board of Aga believes it is in the best interests of Aga shareholders, taken as a whole, to ensure that the Middleby transaction continues to be executed on the current timetable to avoid any delay to completion of that transaction should a firm offer from Whirlpool not be forthcoming.”

Aga is in talks with the UK Takeover Panel to set a “put up or shut up” deadline for Whirlpool to make a firm bid or walk away.

The takeover battle comes after Aga appointed advisers Rothschild to help assess ‘’development opportunities’’ for the business at the start of this year.

It first revealed talks with Illinois-based Middleby in June, before agreeing the deal a month later.

Middleby has sought to allay concerns over the future of Aga’s UK manufacturing operations as part of the takeover.

Swedish Nobel Prize-winning physicist Gustaf Dalen built the first Aga in 1922 and manufacturing was under way in the Midlands seven years later. The ovens are now built in Coalbrookdale, Shropshire.

Aga maker Allied Iron Founders was bought by Midlands-based engineering firm Glynwed in 1969. The Aga part of the business was split from the rest of the company in 2001.

Over the years, the oven acquired a place in British popular culture - featuring in The Archers as well as romance novels that became known as ‘’Aga sagas’’.

The firm, which also owns the Fired Earth tiles brand, recently reported a 1.5% increase in revenues to £125.4 million for the six months to the end of June.

Operating profits were up 16.7% to £2.8 million, but bottom line pre-tax profits for the half-year widened from £300,000 to £4 million due to a higher pension charge and the £3 million cost of advisers on the takeover deal.

The firm is grappling with a hefty pension deficit, valued at around £84 million.