Premier Oil leads City takeover speculation

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A busy afternoon in the FT newsroom has been dominated by news that Premier Oil has – after years of speculation – received a genuine takeover approach. The company did not say where the interest had come from and said the talks were at an “extremely early stage”. The stock rose about 8 per cent valuing the group at £1bn. Royal Dutch Shell and Mexico’s Pemex have long been tipped as buyers for the group, which has interests in the North Sea, India, Vietnam and Indonesia.

But two other potential deals have stalled. Morgan Crucible has ended the takeover talks it was holding with DLJ, the private equity arm of Credit Suisse. And Nord Anglia, a nurseries operator, has broken off its talks with Brian Myerson’s Principle Capital Partners.

Meanwhile, takeover speculation has surrounded Blacks Leisure, where 29 per cent of the company seems to have changed hands in two trades, and Chariot, the hapless lottery company where a mystery buyer has picked up 14 per cent. We are looking into all these rumours, as well as the rumour reported on FT Alphaville, that Corus chief executive Philippe Varin has been approached to run Anglo American.

FT Alphaville, which was launched this morning, got off to a cracking start with a scoop that Peter Meinertzhagen is to retire as chairman of ABN Amro Hoare Govett at the end of March. He has been in the City for more than 40 years. Coming as it does near the 20th anniversary of Big Bang, the news that the man once known to some (a very long time ago) as Whispering Pete is retiring will sadden many: he has been an immensely significant and popular figure in the City. How long before David Mayhew, who was in the same house at school but five years ahead, imitates him at JP Morgan Cazenove? On Alphaville, you’ll also find an update on the “extremely cautious” pricing of Cenkos shares. Post comments on these and other stories.

Royal Dutch Shell says it has approached the board of Shell Canada to acquire the 22 per cent it does not yet own in the business for about C$7.7bn (US$6.8bn, £3.6bn). It looks like another step in the simplification of the group but the stock is off a touch this morning. Shell says it should benefit from a simplified organisation and additional economies of scale. Given the cost of extracting oil from the Canadian oil sands, it also looks like a punt on a high oil price.

Ryanair has posted its offer document for Aer Lingus but Irish radio, RTE, reports that the Employee Share Ownership Trust, which already owns about 10 per cent of the airline, plans to buy another 2.8 per cent.

An amusing one today from Hitachi Capital, the consumer credit group. Its interim profits are up partly as a result of people taking out more loans for cosmetic surgery and laser eye treatment.

It’s a bit less easy to get excited about news that Balfour Beatty and Carillion, the UK construction groups, have won the £363m contract to extend the new East London rail line between Dalston Junction and West Croydon.

I have just returned from a holiday in Scotland, where I happened to hear David Cameron address a small meeting in Edinburgh. His presentation is nothing if not slick and self-assured, but he said yet more bafflingly superficial things about business. Asked what he would do to help small businesses, he said he knew how much small companies resented how few contracts they were awarded by government and he said he would make sure they got more. Yet, there may be very good reasons why large companies get more government business: they are more likely to be able to deliver a consistent service across the country or a whole department, they are likely to be cheaper because they will have lower procurement costs, and they are less likely to get into financial difficulty than small, local companies. Only a few months ago Red Dave was reminding businesses to look after their neighbours, without any mention of shareholders.

Incidentally, I have just read Andrew Gimson’s amusing biography of Boris Johnson. Turn to page 31 to read about Boris’s friendship at school with Rothschild banker Meyrick Cox (”a mathematician”) and then turn to the pictures for a very sweet one of Meyrick and Boris together at prep school. Then, go to p65 to read about Toby Young telling the author how, while at Oxford with Boris, Roland Rudd, founder of the Finsbury PR firm and a former FT journalist, was “debagged by the Bullingdon and ‘took it very badly’.”

Rumour of the Day: Standard Chartered shares are up almost 3 per cent on rumours that Dubai’s Istithmar may raise its recently-acquired 2.7 per cent stake to 20 per cent.

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