Shares surge after takeover approach

THE UK's biggest listed ports operator saw its shares surge almost 25 per cent yesterday after the firm revealed that it had received a £612m takeover approach by a group of major shareholders.

Forth Ports owns seven UK ports, including Tilbury in London, Scotland's largest container port, at Grangemouth, and Leith in Edinburgh.

Late on Friday it rejected an improved 1340p-a-share proposal from a consortium which owns 27.4 per cent of Forth's shares, following an initial approach in January.

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Forth said the price "fell far short" of the value of the business. Markets were betting on a higher bid emerging today as shares soared beyond 1340p to value the company at 636m.

The consortium is led by Arcus European Infrastructure Fund, an investment firm formed by the management buyout of part of Babcock & Brown's European infrastructure business in July last year. Arcus holds 23.5 per cent of Forth.

Other members are Peel Ports – a 3.5 per cent shareholder in Forth with interests including the Manchester Ship Canal and Mersey Docks – as well as RREEF, which is the infrastructure fund of Deutsche Bank.

Forth has said it will meet the consortium after its annual results in two weeks' time.

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The group's portfolio is attractive to would-be buyers because of its steady revenue stream and growth prospects.

There has been speculation that Peel Group was in talks to sell a majority stake in its airports division that could help fund a bid for Forth Ports.

According to reports, Peel Group has been holding discussions with Canada's Vancouver Airport Services to sell Peel Airports.

The group's airport's include Robin Hood Doncaster Sheffield.

A Peel spokesman declined to comment on the reports.