A consortium led by Goldman Sachs, the US investment bank, Friday night looked all but certain to secure ownership of Associated British Ports after winning the company’s recommendation for an offer nearly 25 per cent higher than its original opening bid.

The rival consortium led by Australia’s Macquarie refused to admit defeat, saying it would make another statement in due course. However, it announced that one consortium member – 3i Group, the private equity company – was leaving the consortium and there was widespread expectation that the consortium would push the price no higher. If the bid does finally succeed, it will be a relief for Goldman, which has recently been involved in a number of failed bids for UK companies, including ITV, the broadcaster, and BAA, the airport operator.

The Goldman Consortium – which also includes Singapore’s state-owned GIC Investments and Borealis Infrastructure Management, part of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System – approached the company on Thursday night with a revised offer of 910p per share, valuing ABP at £2.8bn. The offer is 70p above the 840p the Goldman team offered on June 15 and £1 above its first recommended offer of 810p, announced only on June 14. Goldman initially approached ABP in March, making a 730p-per-share offer, which was rejected.

The new bid came while a consortium led by Australia’s Macquarie was still examining the company’s accounts. ABP had said the rival consortium was considering a bid of at least 840p per share.

The battle for ABP has been the latest of a series of remarkable contested bids for UK port operators over the past year. It started last year when two Australian fund managers fought for control of PD Ports, operator of the ports of Teesport and Hartlepool, and continued with the contest between Dubai’s DP World and Singapore’s PSA for P&O, the container ports and ferries operator. Apart from ABP and tiny Simon Group, whose largest shareholder is currently trying to buy the whole group, there now remains only one UK-quoted port operator, Edinburgh-based Forth Ports.

ABP was the largest of the port operators privatised by the Conservative government in the 1980s and 1990s, owning 21 ports at a wide range of locations around the UK. It handles a significant proportion of the UK’s bulk commodity imports, particularly through its large facilities on the River Humber.

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