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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 June 2006, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
Second takeover bid for AB Ports
Cargo ship
AB Ports now has another offer to consider
Associated British Ports (ABP) has received its second takeover offer in as many days, sparking a bidding war for the ports operator.

A consortium led by Australian company Macquarie has made a 840 pence per share offer, matching a bid made by a group led by Goldman Sachs.

The bids value the firm, which runs 21 British ports, at 2.58bn ($4.75bn).

ABP, which had agreed to back the Goldman Sachs bid, said it was now considering the alternative proposal.

The Goldman Sachs-led consortium - Admiral Acquisitions - raised its initial takeover offer from 810 pence to 840p a share in anticipation of a counterbid from the rival group.

Macquarie Bank revealed on Wednesday that it was part of a consortium considering a rival offer.

We believe that AB Ports is worth up to 860p a share
John Lawson, Investec

Its partners include private equity firm 3i and the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board.

Shares in AB Ports were up 45.5p, or 5.5%, at 872p by late afternoon as investors welcomed the prospect of a bid battle.

By closing shares in AB Ports were still significantly above Goldman's offer price at 871.5p.

Tide of trade

AB Ports owns 21 ports across the UK including Ipswich, Plymouth, Hull, Swansea, Ayr and Southampton, handling about a quarter of the UK's seaborne traffic.

The company employs 3,000 staff worldwide, the bulk of which are UK-based.

ABP's board initially accepted the Goldman Sachs bid although the deal must still be approved by shareholders.

Analysts are sceptical that an 840p bid will be enough to win control of the company.

"We believe that AB Ports is worth up to 860p a share, but in a contested situation could we get to 9 pounds," John Lawson, an analyst at Investec, told Reuters.

AB Ports is the latest in a string of British port owners to be the subject of a takeover battle.

P&O, Mersey Docks and PD Ports have all been bought up in the past eighteen months.

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