Markets abuzz with takeover talk

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The FT newsroom has been buzzing since 7am with news of a takeover approach for Corus from Tata Steel of India and a hostile €1.48bn bid for Aer Lingus from Ryanair.

While the first take on the Corus story was being written for FT.com by our UK business editor, John Willman, we woke up our steel expert, Peter Marsh, early in Buenos Aires, where he has been covering the International Iron and Steel Institute’s annual meeting (and taking in some tango). He will tell us what prospect there is of a rival bid (from Severstal of Russia, perhaps?) and how this approach fits in with other moves to consolidate the world’s steel industry, including Mittal’s merger with Arcelor.

Our analysis piece earlier this week about Indian companies making acquisitions abroad looks mighty prescient but how interesting to see our line on Tuesday about a possible tie-up between Tata and Corus being pooh-poohed by Tata on Bloomberg yesterday. “I deny having any knowledge on this subject,’’ T. Mukherjee, deputy managing director of Tata Steel, said. Mr Mukherjee might want to make himself a bit better informed. This morning’s statement said: “Tata Steel is evaluating various opportunities including Corus.”

Ryanair has come at Aer Lingus out of the sun with a bid valuing the Irish flag carrier at 27 per cent more than the the price at which the newly privatised company started trading only last week. Ryanair has snapped up almost 20 per cent of the stock in the market and Aer Lingus shares are trading marginally above the €2.80 offer price. Our Dublin correspondent, John Murray Brown, has just returned from the press conference and says the normally super-informal Michael O’Leary seemed to have dressed up specially (John says he was even wearing Gucci loafers but long-distance loafer identification is about the only thing I wouldn’t take John’s word on). And for once O’Leary had to say nice things about Aer Lingus.

We’re still trying to work out what exactly he is playing at, but for now, here is the FT View running online from Kevin Done, our aerospace correspondent: “This move would mark the biggest possible departure from the low-cost model that Michael O’Leary has followed with religious zeal and singular success for more than a decade. It takes him into difficult, uncharted territory of government relations – the Irish state still holds 34 per cent – treacherous union relations and long-haul services. Irish and European regulators would also have a big say in the matter. And Mr O’Leary is hardly renowned for his diplomatic skills.” Aer Lingus staff stand to share €220m if this bid goes through.

Another deal story, this time a scoop: Lina Saigol wrote this morning that talks between Countrywide, the UK’s largest chain of estate agents, and 3i, Europe’s biggest listed private equity firm, have stalled following disagreement over price.

It is not often that a trading update from Business Post gets the pulse racing. But today the parcel and mail delivery company, which has had a series of problems over the last two years, made clear it is taking market share from Royal Mail by the sackful.

Ukbetting has confirmed a story in the Telegraph this morning, which said it might be sold. The shares are up 11 per cent.

Rumour of the Day: M&S shares are off a touch on talks that Brandes is trying to place the remains of stake. And United Business Media is up 1 per cent on talk of a private equity bid. These rumours come courtesy of Neil Hume, who this week has already brought you news of Manganese Bronze’s deal in China, aggressive stake-building in Aer Lingus, and a bid approach for Northgate Information Systems.

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