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Monday, 11 September, 2000, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Cement giant 'open to offers'
Building site
Sales of grey cement to UK builders rose 5% in the first half of the year
Cement maker Blue Circle Industries, which spent 34m fending off a hostile takeover bid in May, has said it is open to merger ideas.

Rick Haythornwaite, Blue Circle's chief executive, said on Monday he is willing to consider offers for the company.

In May the UK's largest cement maker announced an 800m share buy back scheme and revamped its business, as part of its efforts to see off a bid by France's Lafarge Group. The French group still holds 29% of Blue Circle shares.

Blue Circle later entered talks with US cement maker Southdown.

"We made a point in the defence, and we meant it: nothing is sacrosanct," Mr Haythornwaite told reporters. "We don't believe that independence is the only way forward."

He said he was willing to meet Lafarge, if they suggested new talks. "They are a major shareholder," Mr Haythornwaite said.

The firm on Monday posted profits in the first half of the year of 125.8m, excluding one-off costs, beating City expectations and a 14% increase on the previous year.

Asian growth

Growth in cement production in Malaysia, expected at 20% this year, is leading the company's worldwide growth, the firm said.

Blue Circle chief executive
Rick Haythornthwaite: Merger still in the offing

UK activities contributed 49.4m to operating profits, one third more than for the first six months of 1999, while two-newly acquired Greek firms added 10m.

"Our results show we are well on the way to [achieving] our performance objectives," Mr Haythornwaite said. "The recovery in Asia proceeds apace, and we have got off to a good start in Greece."

The company rationalisation plan saw Blue Circle in July sell its 50% share of Aalborg, the Danish materials group.

The firm has also shed 350 jobs from its UK workforce of about 3,000, and last week signed a three-year contract with Nobel Fuels which will save about $200m per year in fuel costs.

Blue Circle shares closed unchanged at 410p in London on Monday.

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See also:

22 May 00 | Business
Blue Circle in merger talks
04 May 00 | Business
Bid for Blue Circle fails
28 Oct 99 | The Company File
Warning hits Blue Circle shares
11 Apr 00 | Business
Blue Circle's 800m defence
19 Apr 00 | Business
Blue Circle rejects raised bid
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