Upmarket cooker firm Aga Rangemaster is at the centre of a takeover tussle after Whirlpool, the world’s biggest home appliance company, said it is considering making a bid to rival Middleby’s £129m 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 it has opened its books to the new suitor.
Shares in Aga, made famous by celebrity endorsements from the likes of model Daisy Lowe and TV chef Mary Berry, surged by as much as 12 per cent 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 £13bn in sales a year, 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.
Aga said it could adjourn a meeting to sanction the Middleby takeover if it received an offer from Whirlpool that it could recommend to shareholders.
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.
Aga, which has seen a drop in demand for its £7,000 enamelled cast-iron cookers since the downturn, reported a surge in orders following the Tory’s General Election victory in May as customers abandoned pre-poll caution.
Aga said it had seen a slow start to 2015, but there had been a “marked change in attitude” after the Conservatives won a shock outright majority.
The firm said its Rangemaster lines benefited from greater consumer confidence as well as higher incomes feeding through to more spending on the home and house moves.
Prior to the election, there were worries that a Labour Government would bring in new taxes such as the Mansion Tax, which would have hit properties worth more than £2m.
Despite the spike in demand, Aga said costs linked to the Middleby takeover forced it into a pre-tax loss of £4m for the six months to the end of June compared with a £300,000 loss the previous year.